Qatar's Nasser Saleh al Attiyah is one desert stage away from a sixth victory in seven years at the Manateq Qatar Cross-Country Rally after he and French navigator Matthieu Baumel won the fourth selective section by 7min 17sec on Saturday.
The Toyota Hilux pairing duly extended their overall lead over the MINI John Cooper Works Rally crew of Poland's Jakub Przygonski and Belgian co-driver Tom Colsoul to 14min 43sec. The MINI crew lost vital minutes stopping to change two flat tyres.
The fourth stage ran for 324.98km, started to the south of Doha and passed through around 40km of sand dunes north of the Inland Sea. The route then turned north through the middle of the country and then headed through the stony western deserts to finish at Al Wabra, west of Doha.
Przygonski was actually the fastest of the two drivers through the first 107km, but Attiyah pushed harder as the stage progressed to record a fourth stage win of the week.
Attiyah said: "We took it steady today, no punctures and we had no problem with the navigation. We try to keep going like this because the 60 points here is very important. I was going carefully at the start and then we pushed a bit afterwards. Now we try to keep a good pace to finish the rally. We are also happy with the parts that we have tested here in Qatar."
Second-placed Przygonski said: "At the beginning we were running really good. Then we had a puncture, actually two punctures in the end, and we lost some time changing the tyres. The dunes were quite good and there were a lot of stones in the middle of the stage. It was hard on the tyres. We were pushing hard trying to catch Nasser and then the other puncture slowed us down. We will try and keep a good rhythm tomorrow with safe navigation and see what happens to the end."
G-Energy Team MINI One driver Vladimir Vasilyev was quick out of the starting blocks as well and ceded minutes from then on, but the fifth quickest time enabled the Russian to hold on to third overall.
Three of the Overdrive Racing Toyota crews lost valuable minutes with crucial navigation errors: Saudi Arabia's Yasir Seaidan suffered small delays with waypoint navigation and a flat tyre but actually climbed a place to fourth in his Overdrive Toyota on the back of Poland's Aron Domzala losing considerable tine with navigational problems over the closing kilometres. The youngster finished the day's section 38 minutes behind his Saudi team-mate.
Dutchman Erik van Loon was on course for a top-three stage finish until he lost over 20 minutes in the closing kilometres trying to find a tricky waypoint. FIA World Cup leader Martin Prokop, however, enjoyed a strong stage in his Ford F-150 Evo and recorded the third quickest time to stay on track for a priceless finish in sixth overall.
Qatar's Adel Abdulla's held a massive T2 lead of 3hrs 34min 54sec at the start of the penultimate stage and the Nissan Patrol Y62 driver - who is running with the backing of the QMMF and Ooredoo - took no risks to clock a stage time of 5hrs 04min 34sec to maintain a fine seventh in the overall standings.
Championship rival Ahmed al Shegawi had struggled for two days but still began the day in 10th overall. He lost even more time to the Qatari and heads into the final day 4hrs 08min 03sec adrift of the T2 lead.
Adel said:"One day to go. We took it easy from the start, just cruising and we stopped to inflate the tyres after the dunes. When the road was better we decided to push a little. We also pushed when the car was lighter with the fuel load. Nasser (Al-Kuwari) did a good job. Some places were tricky and we missed the right way with seven kilometres to go. We find the road again and we make it to the finish."
Frenchman Claude Fournier began the start with a T3 lead over Spaniard Jose Luis Pena Campo of 51min 43sec and increased that after another gritty stage performance.
Today Sunday, is the final selective section of the event and it runs for 321.84km. The action starts to the west of Doha and the route loops through the country's central deserts before skirting the western coastline and then cutting across the southern extremities to finish through the sand dunes to the north of the Inland Sea south of Sealine with the traditional sprint along a sandy beach to the flying finish.
2018 Qatar Cross-Country Rally – positions after SS4 (unofficial @ 15.40hrs): Cars
1. Nasser Saleh al Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 10hrs 26min 19sec
2. Jakub Przygonski (POL)/Tom Colsoul (BEL) MINI John Cooper Works Rally 10hrs 41min 02sec
3. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS)/Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS) MINI One 11hrs 12min 56sec
4. Yasir Seaidan (SAU)/Alexei Kuzmich (RUS) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 11hrs 50min 03sec
5. Aron Domzala (POL)/Maciej Marton (POL) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 12hrs 13min 23sec
6. Martin Prokop (CZE)/David Pabiška (CZE) Ford F-150 Evo 12hrs 55min 06sec
7. Adel Abdulla (QAT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Nissan Patrol Y62 (T2) 15hrs 33min 22sec
8. Claude Fournier (FRA)/Sébastien Delaunay (FRA) Polaris RZR 1000 (T3) 16hrs 45min 30sec
9. Jose Luis Pena Campo (ESP)/Rafael Tornabell (ESP) Polaris RZR 1000 (T3) 18hrs 52min 05sec
10. Ahmed Shegawi (SAU)/Laurent Lichtleuchter (FRA) Nissan Patrol Y61 (T2) 19hrs 41min 25sec
11. Erik van Loon (NLD)/Wouter Rosegaar (NLD) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 109hrs 06min 02sec
12. Fernando Alvarez (ESP)/Sergio Lafuente (UGY) Volkswagen Amarok 111hrs 08min 07sec
1. Maciej Giemza (POL) KTM 450 Rally Replica 16hrs 54min 32sec
2. Aleksandr Maksimov (RUS) Yamaha YFM 700R 20hrs 14min 29sec
3. Kees Koolen (NLD) Barren Racer BR 1690 21hrs 01min 03sec.
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