Defending champion Al Attiyah eyes another Abu Dhabi win

Denzil Pinto 07:52 30/03/2017
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The man in-form: Nasser Al Attiyah

The 46-year-old Qatari has happy memories of the UAE capital having stood top of the podium in the cars category in 2008 and last year.

The former Dakar Rally champion enters the third round of the FIA  World Cup for Cross Country Rallies on the back of his Dubai Baja victory earlier this month.

That triumph saw him climb to second position in the overall standings after missing the season-opener in Russia in February due to his participation in a shooting competition in Qatar.

He will be aiming for a repeat and take the maximum double 60 points that are up for grabs when the five-stage Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge gets underway on Saturday with the Super Special stage at Al Forsan International Resort.

It will not be easy for the 12-time Middle East Rally champion with the field including championship leader Aron Domzala of Poland and UAE’s Khalid Qassimi, who sits third nine points adrift.

But Al Attiyah is feeling confident in the face of the challenges he’ll face with co-driver Mathieu Baumel in their Toyota.

“Yes for sure I’ll be the strongest driver here,” Al Attiyah told Sport360 before travelling to the UAE capital yesterday. “If you see last year, I won by 40 minutes and it was a big margin in terms of timing and there were no mistakes.

“I will need to have a strong preparation and strong mind and it’s important that we go out there with a strong mentality.

“My target is to win the race and try and win as many stages as possible.  Last year, I won four stages out of the possible five and it was good testing for me. The teams that will be competing are certainly strong there but it’s our goal to win in Abu Dhabi.

“For me, I know my base and my plan is to win most of the stages and if we do that, it would give me a lot of confidence for the next race.”

Nasser Al Attiyah.

Nasser Al Attiyah.

Domzala, who holds an 11-point lead at the top, comes into the race after a sixth-place finish in Dubai.

Al Attiyah acknowledges he will pose a stern test but feels it will be wrong to focus on one main rival with the entry list also including compatriot Mohammed Abu Issa (Mini), experienced Czech Miroslav Zapletal (Hummer) and former FIA World Cup champion, Vladimir Vasilyev (Mini).

“There are a lot of strong drivers out there,” he said. “It all depends on what happens on the day as the conditions may well be different. We know how careful they are but we’ll just concentrate on ourselves and win.”

Last season’s victory in Abu Dhabi was just the start for Al Attiyah who dominated the remainder of the championship winning by a mammoth 164 points, despite missing three of the nine rounds.

But that did not matter as he was in a league of his own, reigning supreme in each of the six rounds he had entered.

Although still early in the championship with eight rounds remaining after the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, Al Attiyah is eager to stamp his authority on UAE soil and take the lead from Domzala.

“This will be a strong Abu Dhabi  race but I’m still a few points beh-ind the leader after winning in Dubai,” he said.

“Me and my team feel that we are capable that we can win the race and leave Abu Dhabi with a big lead. This race is very important for the championship and we’ll try and get as many points as possible.”

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