Dakar Rally champion Nasser al-Attiyah was given a grand welcome on his arrival in Doha, with the ace Qatari driver declaring he will be hard to stop in the next decade.
The 48-year-old’s triumph in Lima, Peru on Thursday was his third Dakar title to add to his 2011 and 2015 wins on the world’s most gruelling endurance race. Al-Attiyah won by a massive 46-minute margin over second-placed Nani Roma, which gave the Japanese manufacturer Toyota their first Dakar triumph.
Al-Attiyah and his French co-driver Matthieu Baumel led after every stage bar the second day in this year’s event when South African teammate Giniel de Villiers was ahead.
“I am still strong and the support from His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani always makes me much stronger and pushes me to do well,” said al-Attiyah, after being received by Minister of Culture and Sports HE Salah bin Ghanem bin Nasser al-Ali at the Hamad International Airport yesterday.
“In Dakar people were saying now it will be very, very difficult to stop Nasser in the next 10 years. I don’t want to say it will be easy but it is very much possible that I will win many more titles in Dakar Rally,” the ever-smiling Qatari added.
Al-Attiyah dedicated his latest title to the nation, saying the victory tastes extra special as it comes in the midst of the illegal Saudi-led blockade.
“It’s a special victory because Qatar is currently facing blockade by its neighbours. We have always shown we are strong and His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim has always given us everything to be strong in sports, this why this victory is very special. Yes I felt more pressure this time because it was a difficult place to race. This was by no means easy so I am quite pleased to win after getting all the support from the country,” he said.
Al-Attiyah, who previously won the Dakar with Volkswagen in 2011 and Mini four years after that, switched to driving a South African-built Toyota Hilux ahead of the 2017 race and had finished runner-up last year. While his other main rivals faltered in testing conditions, al-Attiyah was consistent and focused throughout the 10-stage rally.
Not only was it a first win for Toyota, but it was also the first petrol-powered car to win the Dakar in the South-American era and much of that credit goes to al-Attiyah and his mastery. But the ace driver was modest in his victory and predicted them to do well in the next few years.
“I am happy for Toyota because it is the first time in history that they have won the Dakar. It’s very important victory for me, my country and for Toyota. I received a call from Toyota owner Akio Toyoda, he was so proud and happy. I am sure we will be much stronger for the next three, four years,” al-Attiyah said.
Now the Qatari legend says he will turn his attention to taking part in his seventh Olympic Games in Tokyo next year. A bronze medallist in skeet shooting at London Games in 2012, the multi-talented athlete is looking to make more history.
“I will show everybody I am ready for the Olympics, because it is also my dream to go to Japan, which will be my seventh Olympics. Also Toyota is the sponsor of the Olympic Games. After winning the Dakar, me and Qatar are popular in Japan,” he said.
He also plans to defend his Dakar title in 2020 before heading to Japan. “It will be tough. I will start my preparation for the Olympic Games next week and then we will come back here to Peru to defend our Dakar title,” said al-Attiyah.
By Sahan Bidappa
© Gulf Times Newspaper 2019