Oct 12, 2019
GINIEL DE VILLIERS SEALS SUPERB VICTORY FOR TOYOTA IN RALLY OF MOROCCO
Al-Attiyah misses out on FIA World Cup title to Peterhansel by one point
Overdrive Racing and Toyota Gazoo Racing endured mixed fortunes in what turned out to be a dramatic Rally of Morocco, the final round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.
South African driver Giniel de Villiers managed to claim the outright victory for the fourth time and the first with new Spanish co-driver Spaniard Alex Haro at the wheel of one of four Toyota Gazoo Racing Hiluxes. His winning margin over Spaniard Carlos Sainz was 17min 42sec.
Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah began the event with a nine-point lead in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, but cruel engine issues on the fourth day cost the Qatari and French navigator Matthieu Baumel a useful lead they had built up over the first three days.
The Toyota Gazoo Racing pairing were relying on rival Stéphane Peterhansel finishing lower than fifth overall if they were to claim the world title again. However, the Frenchman managed to reach the finish in fifth place and snatched the title from the Qatari by a single point.
Two-time FIA Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso gained valuable experience from his first ever FIA cross-country event and overcame punctures, a front axle breakage and everything that the Moroccan desert could throw at him to reach the finish in 27th position with five-time Dakar winner Marc Coma acting as his co-driver.
Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke and Belgian Tom Colsoul were running strongly through the early stages before losing a lot of time after damaging the car in a hole. They recovered well to reach the finish in an unofficial 26th in the fourth of the Toyota Gazoo Racing cars.
Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Ulsterman Michael Orr overcame niggling time delays during the course of the five days of action in the desert to head home the Overdrive Racing contingent in sixth place.
The Russian duo of Viktor Khoroshavtsev and Anton Nikolaev stayed clear of serious problems in their Overdrive Racing-prepared car and reached the finish in Fes in 12th overall.
Dutchman Erik van Loon and Frenchman Sebastien Delaunay stopped to assist at the scene of a rival’s accident and then succumbed to issues of their own soon afterwards, despite setting several impressive stage times in their Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux.
The French crew of Ronan Chabot and Gilles Pillot were not able to start the event after Chabot rolled during the pre-event test session.
Only the motorcycles tackled a Prologue stage, near Fes, and the timed action for the cars began with two selective sections of 103.46km and 225.70km en route to the bivouac in Erfoud.
Al-Attiyah overcame one puncture to clock the fastest time and snatch a 2min 39sec advantage over Frenchman Matthieu Serradori in the overall rankings. De Villiers gave Toyota Gazoo Racing a second place on the podium with the third fastest time, albeit 3min 14sec adrift of Al-Attiyah.
Alonso clipped a stone after the third passage control and lost over 20 minutes before finishing the stage at a slow pace in 21st position with a total time loss of 45 minutes. Ten Brinke was a solid fifth and Van Loon was the fastest of the four Overdrive Racing cars in seventh. Al-Rajhi finished the stage in 10th.
Al-Attiyah said: “It was a hard day and tricky from the beginning with 100km of mountains. The last section was more open desert with a lot of rivers. We had one flat tyre, but I am quite happy to have this performance and to be winning the stage.”
Alonso added: “Overall I think it was okay – a positive day. We finished the stage with a couple of issues. We punctured three times and we only had two spares, so we had to wait for a car to ask a favour. We learnt a lot and did some kilometres.”
The second stage was the first of three loops around the Aoufous (Erfoud) bivouac. It ran for 386.49km, featured plenty of sand dunes and a passage through the famous Erg Chebbi.
Al-Attiyah was again the man on form and the Qatari beat last year’s FIA World Cup winner Jakub Przygonski by 11min 09sec and title rival Peterhansel by 12min 32sec. De Villiers reached the finish in fourth and moved up to second in the overall classification, 17min 09sec behind Al-Attiyah, while Alonso was 10th fastest, despite a lowly starting order and having to battle through the dust. Ten Brinke and Van Loon were sixth and eighth, but Khoroshavtsev and Al-Rajhi lost time in 19th and 20th.
Al-Attiyah said: “We didn’t make any navigational mistakes and I was really pushing because we need to see where we are.”
De Villiers added: “Not an easy day. We lost three or four minutes at the beginning with the navigation. Then, 130km into the special, we lost a manifold to the engine which cost us a lot of power and then the engine uses more fuel, so we had to manage the fuel consumption. It is not easy to cross the dunes with the lack of power and one place we had to turn around. It was a day to survive.”
Three timed stages of 79.80km, 210.80km and 72.38km featured in the second Erfoud loop with the road book for the day’s competition only given out five minutes before the start of the first car.
It developed into a day of mixed fortunes for the Toyota Gazoo Racing quartet. Alonso broke a front axle after around 75km and was only able to complete the opening section before returning to the bivouac via the liaison section. Back at the bivouac, he said: “We couldn’t repair the car where we were, the suspension was broken, so we had no choice but to call our assistance. It is how it is in rally-raid.”
Ten Brinke was caught out by the same hole after setting the early pace and did not finish the stage, as Peterhansel, Sainz and Al-Attiyah led the way through the early exchanges and into the closing kilometres.
Al-Attiyah regained the advantage on the last section but Sainz eventually won the stage by 29 seconds when the route was later shortened by event stewards because of a GPS issue. Al-Attiyah’s overall lead over De Villiers was 17min 21sec with the South African fourth on the day’s stage.
With delays for Van Loon, who stopped to assist at the scene of an accident for Czech driver Martin Prokop and then damaged his Toyota running in the dust of later cars, Al-Rajhi climbed to seventh overall in the first of the Overdrive Racing Hiluxes after setting the third quickest time, but fell back slightly when a 40-minute time penalty was imposed.
Al-Attiyah said: “A long day with the new road book system we received in the morning. We were really careful and we didn’t make any mistakes because it’s not easy to open without having seen the road book. We knew we were losing time but, over the last 70 kilometres, we pushed to try and win the stage.”
Day four featured a third loop of 408.53km through the sand dunes and valleys around Erfoud. Both Alonso and Ten Brinke were given the green light to take the stage start with time penalties, but drama unfolded after 205km when Al-Attiyah stopped with technical issues and was forced to make his way back to the bivouac via the road section with a hefty amount of time penalties to follow.
Around 88km further into the special, his main title rival Peterhansel rolled his car and again threw the outcome of the FIA World Cup wide open by slipping to fifth overall. Sainz held on to claim a second successive stage win, Przygonski came in second and new leader De Villiers was third, albeit 4min 47sec in front of Sainz in the overall standings. Al-Rajhi was sixth fastest on the stage, Ten Brinke was ninth and Khoroshavtsev came in 14th.
New leader De Villiers said: “These races are crazy. It is never over until it is done. We were going well at the beginning and then Yazeed caught us very quickly but then hit something in the rocks and stopped. Then we saw Nasser. We tried to help him. We spent about three minutes with him but there was nothing we could so we carried on. We went wrong and ended up doing 15km too many.”
Alonso came in seventh, despite his own fair share of issues. “We had too many punctures again,” said the Spaniard. “At one point we saw Nasser, so we stopped to see what had happened and we heard he had an engine problem. We took some tyres from him and we took it a little bit easy until the end.”
The final selective section of 168km passed between Erfoud and the finish in Fes and included passages through valleys and across plains with the added challenge of the navigation. Peterhansel had managed to cling on to fifth overall at the night halt. If he was to finish lower than fifth Al-Attiyah could still claim the FIA World Cup title.
De Villiers maintained his composure to perfection to claim a fast time and secure a superb victory with rival Sainz ceding time to the South African over the closing kilometres. Ten Brinke and Van Loon ended their rallies on a high note with the quickest and third fastest times and Al-Rajhi confirmed sixth place by being fourth quickest.
2019 Rally of Morocco – provisional results
FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies – standings after round 4 (unofficial):
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