Qatar's Nasser Saleh al Attiyah and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel got the better of a strong field through a varied and challenging opening 4.84km super special stage of the Manateq Qatar Cross-Country Rally at the Losail International Circuit late on Wednesday afternoon.
The performance earned the defending FIA World Cup champion a slender lead of 5.76 seconds to take into the first of four demanding desert selective sections on Thursday morning. Cars tackled the stage in reverse order and Al-Attiyah saved the best until last with a time of 4min 13.35sec.
South African de Villiers settled in well in the second of the Toyota GAZOO Racing South Africa Hiluxes and sealed second position, while Poland's Jakub Przygonski rounded off the top three.
Fellow countryman Aron Domzala was fourth and FIA World Cup leader Martin Prokop finished the stage in fifth place. Dutchman Erik van Loon took a maximum stage penalty of one hour after crashing in the stage. The Overdrive Racing mechanics will need to work to repair the Toyota before the restart on Thursday.
Qatar's Adel Abdulla delighted his home crowds by romping into a 42-second T2 category lead over main Saudi Arabian rival Ahmed Shegawi. The QMMF and Ooredoo-backed Nissan Patrol driver posted a time of 5min 18.81sec to snatch the early advantage in the section for series production cross-country vehicles. Russia's Yuliya Migunova-Khegay was third and Romania's Laurentiu Claudiu Barbu finished in a distant fourth.
Spaniard Santiago Navarro moved into an impressive 18.33-second T3 category lead over Frenchman Claude Fournier. Series rival Jos` Luis Pena Campo of Spain was a mere 1.43 seconds behind and Italy's Michele Cinotto completed the stage in fourth.
Spaniard Fernando Alvarez survived a slight indiscretion after running wide to finish the stage in eighth overall with his South Racing Volkswagen Amarok.
Nineteen cars were officially permitted to start the Manateq Qatar Cross-Country Rally and 14 lined up in the Manateq Qatar National Baja, in addition to the four that were eligible from the main event. The two non-starters in the QCCR were Khaled Al-Suwaidi and Ravil Maginov.
Polish Orlen Team rider Maciej Giemza prepared to tackle the Qatar deserts as a lone FIM-sanctioned motorcycle entrant with an opening time of 4min 36.65sec in the super special stage. Dutchman Kees Koolen pipped quad rival Russian rival Alexsandr Maxsimov by 3.46 seconds to lead the category heading into the desert.
The National Baja competitors will only tackle shortened versions of the first and fourth desert stages on Thursday and Sunday. Kuwait's Abdulaziz Al-Bsheyer drew first blood with the fastest time of 4min 41.40sec in his Can-Am Maverick X3.
Al-Attiyah's cousin Mohammed Al-Attiyah held second and Qatar's Ahmed Allouh rounded off an all Can-Am top three.
On Thursday, competitors tackle the first of the desert selective sections a menacing 358.15km examination of navigational skills, patience and endurance.
The stage starts 48.48km south-west of Losail and winds its way through the remote western wastelands of the State of Qatar before crossing the bottom of the dountry to finish 93.75km away from rally headquarters - close to the former bivouac at Sealine - south of the industrial and petroleum hub of Mesaieed on the south-east coast.
2018 QCCR positions after SS1 (unofficial)
1. Nasser Saleh al Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 4min 13.35sec.
2. Giniel de Villiers (ZAF)/Robert Howie (ZAF) Toyota Hilux 4min 19.11sec
3. Jakub Przygonski (POL)/Tom Colsoul (BEL) MINI John Cooper Works Rally 4min 19.83sec
4. Aron Domzala (POL)/Maciej Marton (POL) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 4min 23.71sec
5. Martin Prokop (CZE)/David Pabiska (CZE) Ford F-150 Evo 4min 24.52sec
6. Yasir Seaidan (SAU)/Alexei Kuzmich (RUS) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 4min 29.26sec
7. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS)/Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS) MINI One 4min 35.53sec
8. Fernando Alvarez (ESP)/Sergio Lafuente (UGY) Volkswagen Amarok 5min 13.17sec
9. Santiago Navarro (ESP)/Pwsdro Lopez (ESP) Yamaha XYZ 1000R (T3) 5min 13.21sec
10. Adel Abdulla (QAT)/Nasser al Kuwari (QAT) Nissan Patrol Y62 (T2) 5min 18.81sec
11. Khaled al Feraihi (SAU)/Ali Hassan Obaid (ARE) Nissan Patrol 5min 24.89sec
12. Claude Fournier (FRA)/Sébastien Delaunay (FRA) Polaris RZR 1000 (T3) 5min 31.54sec
13. Jose Luis Pena Campo (ESP)/Rafael Tornabell (ESP) Polaris RZR 1000 (T3) 5min 32.97sec
14. Michele Cinotto (ITA)/Fulvio Zini (ITA) Polaris RZR 1000 (T3) 5min 37.33sec
15. Ahmed Shegawi (SAU)/Laurent Lichtleuchter (FRA) Nissan Patrol Y61 (T2) 6min 00.51sec
16. Yuliya Migunova-Khegay (RUS)/Aldis Vilcans (LVA) Toyota Land Cruiser (T2) 6min 03.52sec
17. Abdullah al Zubair (OMN)/Faisal al Railsi (OMN) Jeep Wrangler 6min 09.81sec
18. Laurentiu Claudiu Barbu (ROM)/Paul-Nicusor Spiridon (ROM) Nissan Navara (T2) 7min 33.54sec
19. Erik van Loon (NLD)/Wouter Rosegaar (NLD) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 1hr 00min 00sec.
1. Maciej Giemza (POL) KTM 450 Rally Replica 4min 36.65sec
2. Kees Koolen (NLD) Barren Racer BR 1690 5min 08.98sec
3. Aleksandr Maksimov (RUS) Yamaha YFM 700R 5min 12.44sec.
Manateq Qatar National Baja – positions after SS1 (unofficial): Cars
1. Abdulaziz al Bshayer (KWT)/Faisal Zeidan (KWT) Can-Am Maverick X3 4min 41.40sec
2. Mohammed al Attiyah (QAT)/Zaenal Abidain (QAT) Can-Am Maverick X3 4min 52.61sec
3. Ahmed Allouh (QAT)/Tamer Issa (JOR) Can-Am Maverick X3 5min 06.86sec
4. Abdullah al Rabban (QAT)/Dionislos Nikitopulos (QAT) Baja 5min 13.54sec
5. Nayef al Nasr (QAT)/Jassim Mohammed Falahi (QAT) Can-Am Maverick T3 5min 17.34sec
6. Adel Abdulla (QAT)/Nasser al Kuwari (QAT) Nissan Patrol Y62 (T2) 5min 18.81sec
7. Khaled al Feraihi (SAU)/Ali Hassan Obaid (ARE) Nissan Patrol 5min 24.89sec
8. Muneef al Salmani (SAU)/Abdullah al Remal (SAU) Nissan Patrol 5min 29.17sec
9. Hamed bin Eid al Thani (QAT)/Feres Allouh (QAT) Nissan Patrol 5min 45.23sec
10. Mohammed al Meer (QAT)/Jaber Abu Jabri (QAT) Nissan Patrol 5min 48.98sec
11. Thuwaini al Nahel (KWT)/Mohammed Al-Tahnoun (KWT) Polaris RZR 1000 5min 54.92sec
12. Ahmed Shegawi (SAU)/Laurent Lichtleuchter (FRA) Nissan Patrol Y61 (T2) 6min 00.51sec
13. Abdullah al Zubair (OMN)/Faisal Al-Railsi (OMN) Jeep Wrangler 6min 09.81sec
14. Jamal Fakhroo (QAT)/Saeed Shawared (QAT) Nissan Patrol 6min 11.52sec
15. Nasser al Ajmi (KWT)/Mohammed al Awadi (KWT) Nissan Patrol 6min 25.60sec
16. Rashid al Mohannadi (QAT)/Ahmed al Fares (KWT) Nissan Patrol 8min 01.55sec
17. Abdulaziz al Dhafiri (KWT)/Nawaf al Enezi (KWT) Nissan Patrol 30min 00.00sec
17. Mohammed al Mannai (QAT)/Khalid Maridi (QAT) Baja 30min 00.00sec.