Al-Attiyah, Al-Rajhi seal first and third for Toyota Gazoo and Overdrive Racing in Andalucia

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VILLAMARTIN (SPAIN) — Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi finished first and third overall in the inaugural Andalucia Rally in southern Spain on Saturday.

Driving a pair of Toyota Hiluxes for Toyota Gazoo Racing and Overdrive Racing, the duo were the class of the field for much of the four-day off-road event that ran for the first time in the remote rural region between Malaga, Seville and Jerez.

A 10-minute penalty for a speeding violation cost the Saudi a potential victory after the third stage and he reached the finish 7min 17sec behind runner-up Carlos Sainz, with Al-Attiyah securing victory over the Spaniard by the margin of 3min 14sec.

Organized in a short period of time to replace the Rally of Morocco — that was canceled as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic — the Andalucia Rally utilized all the necessary safety protocols and became a superb shakedown arena for teams making preparations for the forthcoming Dakar Rally.

Al-Attiyah and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel won the super special and the second and third stages on their way to victory. Al-Rajhi was fastest on the first selective section and the time penalty cost him the win on stage three.

“This is a great victory for Matthieu, myself and all the team and a very useful event before the Dakar,” said Al-Attiyah. “It was the first time I came here to Andalucia. The scenery was magnificent. I thank David Castera and the organising team for bringing us all together. It’s like a mini-Dakar!”

Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke and his Belgian navigator Tom Colsoul were in contention for a podium finish until their Toyota sustained a broken drive shaft on the third stage. Ten Brinke clocked the second fastest time on the final day but the damage had been done the previous day.

Fellow countryman Erik Van Loon had been holding seventh overall with French co-driver Sébastien Delaunay until he suffered a broken rear suspension arm on the third stage and slipped out of contention for the top five. The Dutchman was classified seventh on the last stage.

Technical issues also cost the French crew of Ronan Chabot and Gilles Pillot a top 10 finish in the fifth of the Toyota Hiluxes.

American Mitch Guthrie and Norwegian co-driver Ole Floene claimed victory for the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team in the T3 category. At the wheel of the first of three OT3 by Overdrive Prototypes, Guthrie reached the finish 6min 25sec ahead of Swedish rally cross supremo and team-mate Kevin Hansen and his French co-driver François Cazelet.

Eighteen-year-old Seth Quintero suffered technical issues earlier in the rally with Germany’s Dennis Zenz in the third OT3 and used the remainder of the event to gain further experience.

Al-Attiyah shared the spoils with Peterhansel in the nine-kilometer super special stage that preceded the opening varied selective section of 258km that looped through the Andalucian countryside around Villamartin and included some sandy and open tracks and narrower and more technical sections. Ten Brinke came home in third place, 10 seconds adrift, and Al-Rajhi was fourth.

Because of a late start, race officials decided to halt the opening car stage after 168km and Al-Rajhi claimed the stage win from Sainz to snatch the outright lead. Ten Brinke, Van Loon and Chabot settled into fourth, seventh and 12th positions with Al-Attiyah dropping time with a broken drive shaft and rival Peterhansel delayed with a damaged wishbone. In addition, Van Loon sustained three flat tyres and Ten Brinke punctured once.

“It was not easy but I am quite happy to finish the stage without losing too much time,” said Al-Attiyah. “At the beginning, everything was good. Then, after 45km, we had a problem with the front-left drive shaft, so we did 120km with just rear-wheel drive.”

Ten Brinke added: “In the beginning we had a good pace then, after 40km, we came up to Van Loon and were stuck behind until the end.”

Amongst the T3 runners, Mitch Guthrie Jr. came home fourth in his OT3 by Overdrive, Hansen was eighth, but 18-year-old Quintero suffered transmission issues and was unable to complete the stage.

Teams tackled a second stage of 243km on Thursday and, despite a flat tire near the stage finish, Al-Attiyah emerged triumphant from Al-Rajhi and Sainz to regain a 23-second advantage over his Saudi teammate and rival on the return to Hacienda El Rosalejo.

Ten Brinke and Van Loon were fourth and seventh overall but Chabot lost time with technical issues. Guthrie retained his T3 lead over Hansen with Quintero out of the running for overall honors.

Al-Rajhi said: “Good stage with Dirk. He did really well. We opened the road, which wasn’t easy. It was slippery over the first part and you needed to have a good feeling. We didn’t want to take a lot of risks and then we pushed a bit in the second part.”

The third selective section should have run for 233km across more open and flatter terrain with few trees and faster straights. But the special was shortened on safety grounds.

Initially the stage win and the outright lead was handed to Al-Rajhi, but race officials later handed the Saudi a 10-minute time penalty for a speeding infringement and that gifted the advantage and the stage win to Al-Attiyah.

The Qatari, therefore, took a 6min 48sec lead over Sainz into the final stage with Al-Rajhi pushed down to third position, 9min 37sec adrift. Both Ten Brinke and Van Loon fell out of contention with driveshaft issues and a broken low rear suspension arm, respectively.

Al-Attiyah said: “We pushed very hard. We knew it wouldn’t be easy being the first car on the road. We only made one mistake. The digital road book is fantastic and Matthieu is happy because it is not moving around.”

Guthrie and Hansen continued to lead the T3 category in their OT3s heading to the fourth and final selective section of 178km that finished in the bivouac.

Al-Attiyah held his nerve to record the third quickest time and confirm the outright win with Al-Rajhi coming home in fourth to confirm third overall. Ten Brinke finished the event on a high with the second fastest time behind stage winner Sainz and Guthrie confirmed the T3 win from Hansen. — SG


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