One year ago, Nasser al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel blasted onto the Silk Way Rally to conquer the wildest terrains of Asia.
After a decade of taking on the Silk Way and getting on to the podium, al-Attiyah put on a flawless performance winning every single stage from start to finish. Here is a look back at some of al-Attiyah’s magical moments at the 2019 Silk Way Rally.
Lake Baikal, Siberia. The deepest lake on Earth. That was where al-Attiyah marked the beginning of his Silk Way glory in 2019. All throughout Irkutsk’s taiga forests and Baikalsk’s stony roads, al-Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel made it very clear; they were here to win. By the end of the first three days, they had secured three straight stage wins.
“The Silk Way Rally was really special filled with many experiences. We started in Moscow then crossed over to Mongolia. Mongolia was amazing and it led us to China, which was an incredible. For the first time in my life I saw those huge sand dunes,” says al-Attiyah.
From Ulaanbaatar, the signature tracks of Mongolia stretched out ahead into stages four and five. Climbing the hills and steppes at speeds, al-Attiyah was chasing the clouds as he remained in the lead. The Qatari champion changed his tactics successfully to maintain his dominance with another two stage wins.
Halfway into the Silk Way rally al-Attiyah and Baumel started to feel the pressure. Navigational challenges slowed things down and the dream team had to change up their strategy. Baumel responded to errors quick enough to save the lead and secure the most difficult stage win of the race.
Crossing into the Chinese borders, the prince of Dunes found himself at an advantage. The finals stages of the Silk Way rally featured the sandy Gobi desert. Although a familiar terrain to al-Attiyah, he adapted to the unpredictable environments that lay ahead. By the end of stage 7, al-Attiyah and Baumel made Silk Way rally history by becoming the first crew to ever achieve seven consecutive stage wins. “I think 2019 was a great performance and a good test for us. We had a new Toyota Hilux. We had the new Volkswagen Polo in the Middle East Rally Championship, which led us to win in Lebanon for the first time. It was just amazing”, says al-Attiyah.
From there, the three-time Dakar rally champion had become an unstoppable force. His performance was unprecedented as he registered the fastest-lap times throughout all 9 timed stages, something that has not been done before at an international event like this. “Winning the Silk Way rally was a dream come true. After leading the race three times, in 2009, 2010 and 2018, always finished in second place because of unfortunate mechanical issues. But winning in 2019 was very special, because we won 10 out of 10 stages,” says al-Attiyah.
After 5,000 kilometres through Russia, Mongolia and China, al-Attiyah was determined to cross the finish line to claim another career-defining win. First place all the way through to the end, al-Attiyah completed the Silk Way rally to make 2019 a phenomenal year.
“2019 was an amazing season for us. Winning Dakar, Middle East Rally championship and many other races. I was very happy with 2019’s season. 2021 has big plans for the team and me. Our first race will be the Dakar Rally. Then it will be the cross-country and the Middle East Rally Championship. Followed by the Baja rally. We’ll be participating in as many races as we can so it’s important to tweak our performance right from the beginning,” says al-Attiyah.
Qatar’s rally veteran is set to make a return to an action-packed 2020 season with team Toyota. That means more off-road action to look forward to all around the globe.
© Gulf Times Newspaper 2022