May 24, 2024

Al Attiyah wins Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge with Boulanger

Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah put the recent Dakar disappointment firmly to the back of his mind when he teamed up with Frenchman Edouard Boulanger for the first time to secure a fourth career victory on the demanding Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, round two of the 2024 FIA World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC).

In so doing, and despite losing chunks of time when he became stuck in the sand dunes on stage three, the Qatari recorded his second victory at the wheel of his Nasser Racing by Prodrive Hunter and leapt into contention to challenge for both the W2RC Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ titles this year. Boulanger had won the event for the first time with French legend Stéphane Peterhansel and Team Audi Sport in 2022.

Al Attiyah, who now holds second in the Drivers’ Championship behind Carlos Sainz, said: “It was a nice rally and we enjoyed it a lot. It was a good win. Now we can fight for the title. Still, we have three races and we try to do our best. Thanks to Edouard (Boulanger), he did a fantastic job.”

Boulanger added: “It was clearly a good week discovering Nasser and a new team and this car. Everything went well. We got stuck two times but that is part of the game. I really appreciate the time spent with Nasser. As always, we know he is amazing as a driver when he is pushing in the dunes. This week, we had confirmation of that again.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Seth Quintero and co-driver Dennis Zenz shadowed Al Attiyah to the finish to amass a crucial haul of points towards the W2RC’s Ultimate category. The American won one stage in his Toyota GR DKR Hilux through the towering dunes of the UAE’s Western Region but a 15-minute time penalty for missing a route waypoint pushed Quintero down to third overall behind Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al Rajhi and his German co-driver Timo Gottschalk in the final standings.

Their performances also strengthened Toyota Gazoo Racing’s quest to retain the W2RC’s Manufacturers’ Championship. They now lead Nasser Racing by Prodrive by 31 points and Al Rajhi and Quintero move up to fifth and eighth in the Drivers’ Championship.

Al Rajhi said: “We finished. This was a good result. It was not an easy race and we didn’t want to take any risks. There were a lot of problems for a lot of people but we picked up a lot of points. We will now target to push and attack at the next race in Spain and Portugal.”

Quintero added: “The last stage was a scary one, for sure. We knew we had the podium and didn’t want to lose it so we took it easy today. This was our second race with the Toyota and we are proud to be on the podium.”

The rate of attrition was high in the dunes of the Rub Al Khali and it meant that the two Can-Am Factory Team Maverick X3s of Austin Jones and Rokas Baciuska finished fourth and fifth overall and dominated the Challenger category.

Marcos Baumgart and Kleber Cincea are registered for W2RC Manufacturers’ points with Nasser Racing by Prodrive and the Brazilian duo guided their Hunter to sixth overall.

The SSV category-winning local driver Mansour Al-Helai was seventh, Saudi rival Yasir Seaidan finished eighth and the sole X-Raid Mini JCW Team Rally Plus finished ninth in the hands of young Spaniard Pau Navarro and his veteran German co-driver Andreas Schulz. Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Saood Variawa and François Cazalet rounded off the top 10.

Day four accounted for Overdrive Racing’s fourth-placed Guerlain Chicherit and his team-mate and early pace-setter Juan Cruz Yacopini and their respective co-drivers Alex Winocq and Daniel Oliveras. Chicherit, winner of the event in 2009, fell into a hole between sand dunes 20km from the finish of the stage and Winocq complained of back pain. The Frenchman drove to the stage finish without his co-driver but retired after the stage, although he holds third place in the W2RC Drivers’ Championship.

“We could really not finish,” said Chicherit.

“Near the end, we had one jump bigger than the other and, on the landing, Alex pinched something on his back. He was really complaining, so we had to stop and call the helicopters to pick him up. I think it’s an amazing rally and it’s extremely difficult in some parts. Sometimes you get luck, sometimes you get bad luck!”

Yacopini had been involved in a collision with rival Martin Prokop on stage three and was later deemed to have received outside assistance to repair his car in a bid to make it to the stage finish. As per the regulations, the Argentine, who had crashed earlier in the stage as well, was disqualified by the Stewards before the start of stage four.

Founded by FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem way back in 1991, the event was held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in Al-Dhafra Region, and was organised by the Emirates Motorsports Organisation (EMSO).

Action in the FIA World Rally-Raid Championship resumes with the BP Ultimate Rally-Raid in Portugal and Spain on April 2nd-7th.