Al Attiyah dominates then disqualified

Al Attiyah dominates then disqualifiedFrom WRC Promoter [ 07/03/2011 ].
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The prestige of recent Dakar winner Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT, Ford Fiesta, Michelin) and his co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini was clear as they led the opening round of the 2011 FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship from start to finish this weekend at Guanajuato Rally México.

Off the back of a tough 2010 season, the 2006 PWRC Champions sealed their first SWRC victory in style clocking eight stage wins and taking home maximum points. The formidable pairing tore through SS1, before adopting a more conservative approach to the morning of Day One proper, not wanting to take any risks on the opening loop of treacherous Mexican stages. However, after a quick set-up change at midday service, they started to push harder, displaying an untouchable pace and consistency, before closing the day with a double win on the Super Special Stage. Al-Attiyah repeated this performance on Day Two, despite tension on SS16 and SS17 when he had to nurse his Fiesta back to service after a bolt on his steering column worked its way lose seriously reducing the precision of his steering. On the final day, the 6-times Middle East Champion overcame significant pressure from rival Martin Prokop (CZE, Ford, Michelin), to clock strong times throughout, and bring his Ford safely to the finish 13 seconds ahead of his nearest rival.

This performance was no mean feat with Prokop and Juho Hänninen (FIN, Škoda, Michelin) hot on his heels. 2009 JWRC Champion Prokop powered through the stages pleased to finish second and better his third place last year, with Hänninen taking the final place on the podium on his first outing in Mexico and completing a top three separated by under a minute and a half. Already marked to be ‘oneto- watch’ in the battle for the SWRC title this year, Hänninen was disappointed to get off to a slow start when he first hit a wall on Thursday night’s street stage, severely damaging his front cross member and rear suspension, then lost over two minutes on SS2 when his broken reverse gear left him unable to escape from a spin. Despite fighting hard to make up lost time, picking up nine stage wins and narrowing the gap with Prokop to 30 seconds by the end of Day Two, this disadvantage proved impossible to shake for the Finn. Unfortunately, as he pushed hard to catch Prokop on Day Three he lost a further minute when he rolled on SS21 and was forced to settle for a frustrated third.

Young Estonians Ott Tänak (Ford, Michelin) and Karl Kruuda (Škoda, Michelin) were new to their Super 2000 cars this weekend and pleased to finish the event in fourth and fifth respectively, despite both being over 40 minutes off the pace of the series leaders. A 2010 Pirelli Star Driver, Tänak handled the switch from a Group N car well, the relentless speed he showed last year immediately evident on Day One as he broke through the experienced field around him to win two stages (SS4, SS8) and finish the day in second, only 27 seconds behind leader Al-Attiyah. However, disaster struck when he retired from Day Two on the opening stage after losing the road and getting stranded 4m down a bank. His Fiesta suffered little damage and he was able to superally to rejoin the field for Day Three, but was too far off the pace to hope for a podium finish.

At only 18, Kruuda is the youngest SWRC driver and entered the event looking to gain as much experience as possible. This plan was unfortunately limited by fuel pump gremlins, leading to his premature retirement from Day One on SS5. He superallied to restart on Day Two, but the problem was ongoing and he was once again forced to retire, this time on the road section following SS13. Even so, Kruuda restarted on Day Three, showing his customary resilience to adversity, and was delighted to finish his first SWRC event and pick up 10 valuable SWRC points.

DRIVER QUOTES

1st – Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT): “Fantastic, really. It’s been a hard week and I’m so happy to win the rally. We’ve competed here many times before and this is a great start to the Championship for us. It’s been a fantastic year so far winning Dakar and our events in the Middle East, so I hope we can continue like this.”

2nd – Martin Prokop (CZE): “I’m very, very happy. Happy we finished in front of Škoda in particular. We got important Championship points. The only problem was with bad set-up on Friday, but Saturday and Sunday everything was perfect. This year the competition in the SWRC is strong, so every point is important.”

3rd – Juho Hänninen (FIN): “I could have finished in a better position if I hadn’t made a mistake at the beginning of the event. Then I wasn’t able to get the time out of Prokop that I planned. It was not our weekend, I finished last out of the drivers who didn’t superally, the next round can only be better. On the next rallies I need to win. Third is not enough. Thanks a lot though to our team mechanics, especially after what theyperformed Friday morning – that was excellent.”

add on:

Following technical scrutineering, the stewards ruled that Car 23 driven by Nasser Al-Attiyah was excluded from the SWRC in Guanajuato Rally México due to the fuel cell ventilation failing to conform to technical regulations.