Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah added another trophy to his cabinet after winning his second Dakar Rally title yesterday, having first won it in 2011. The 44-year-old Qatari beat his nearest rival, South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers, by over 35 minutes.
In rallying terms, this winning margin is huge and he achieved it despite incurring a two-minute penalty on the opening day – for speeding!
Al Attiyah now joins the ranks of Dakar legends such as Stephane Peterhansel, Ari Vatanen, Jean-Louis Schlesser, Pierre Lartigue, Hiroshi Masuoka and Rene Metge – all multiple winners of the world’s most notoriously tough endurance race, run over nearly 10,000km spanning two weeks.
The Qatari is a natural born athlete who is totally focused on the job at hand. And he is a multi-tasker too. Unlike most rally drivers who stick to a preferred category, Al Attiyah has participated in virtually every championship there is in off-road racing.
He won the P-WRC in 2006 behind the wheel of a Subaru Impreza. He gained the championship lead after finishing second in class at Rally Mexico and afterwards won the following two rounds, Argentina and Acropolis. After winning the 2008 FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup driving a BMW, he contested the 2009 Dakar Rally, which was shifted from Paris to Argentina. The Qatari was among the front runners until he got disqualified for missing nine checkpoints; a driver is permitted to miss a maximum of four.
In the 2010 edition of the Dakar, Al Attiyah finished second, 2m 12s behind good friend Carlos Sainz of Spain, the smallest gap in the history of the race. The following year he won his first Dakar title on his seventh outing, ahead of fellow Volkswagen drivers Sainz and De Villiers, making him the only Arab to ever win the world’s toughest endurance.
In the World Rally Championship, Al Attiyah scored his first points during the 2009 season, finishing eighth in Argentina. In 2010 and 2011, he drove for the Barwa Rally Team in the Super 2000 category of the WRC, finishing seventh overall on both occasions.
By 2012, Al Attiyah moved to compete in the top division for the Qatar World Rally Team, securing a career-best fourth place in Portugal. Before his latest Dakar exploits, Al Attiyah clinched his first WRC2 title after debuting in that category last year.
He is not just an exceptional rally driver; Al Attiyah is an accomplished shooter too, winning numerous championships in clay shooting in Asia and Europe. He was fourth in the 2004 Olympic Games in clay pigeon shooting and 15th overall in the 2008 Olympic Games, missing out on qualification for the final round by a mere two points.
The highlight of his shooting career, however, came at the 2012 London Olympics where he won the bronze medal after a shoot-off against Valeriy Shomin.
Al Attiyah makes a wish-list at the end of each year and then focuses on those targets. Last year, it was the MERC and the WRC2; this year the Dakar and again the MERC.
Should he win the latter it would be his 11th regional title, unless the trophy, which is currently under dispute, is taken away. He told me that he wants to win every title there is to be had; including winning the WRC and securing gold in shooting at the Olympics, something the Qatari will target when he makes his sixth appearance at the Games at Rio 2016.
He is a credit to the whole region.
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