Al-Attiyah hunts down Portugal W2RC win

On what's looking like his final outing in the Prodrive Hunter, Qatari star Nasser Al-Attiyah scores another W2RC victory


Nasser Al-Attiyah and Edouard Boulanger came out on top in the BP Ultimate Rally-Raid Portugal to claim their second successive World Rally-Raid Championship victory of the season in their Nasser Racing Prodrive Hunter.

The pair, driving in just their second event together after splitting with Mathieu Baumel and Stéphane Peterhansel respectively, fended off local heroes João Ferreira and Filipe Palmeiro to win the season’s first cross-border event in the W2RC’s short history by just under three minutes.

Four-time Dakar Rally winner Carlos Sainz finished third on his return to the X-raid Mini JCW team, partnered by compatriot Alex Haro Bravo.

Having bounced back from a disappointing Dakar with victory in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in February, Al-Attiyah began what is believed to be his last W2RC event before October’s Rallye du Maroc season finale (where he will be competing with new employers Dacia,) in fine style by topping Thursday’s road-order setting Prologue.

Naturally, Al-Attiyah elected to start the opening stage 10th on the road hoping for a swept surface delivering more grip. It was, however, the Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux of Guerlain Chicherit and Mathieu Baumel who ended the day fastest.


This year's Dakar winner Carlos Sainz enjoyed plenty of attention in Portugal, but missed out on a podium on his X-raid return

That early lead was as good as it would get for Chicherit, competing in a one-off event this weekend. Mechanical issues forced the Hilux out of stage two. W2RC regulations allowed the use of a joker to restart on stage three, but a second failure forced the Frenchman out for good.

Chicherit’s retirement allowed Al-Attiyah to establish a 20-second advantage over Yazeed Al Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk after stage two – which was shortened and notional times handed out due to a torrential downpour. The latter’s challenge was extinguished in spectacular fashion as the Overdrive Racing pair barrel-rolled as the event headed into Spain on stage three.

SSV T4 regular João Ferreira made his first start of the season in a Mini JCW Rally Plus and ran an impressive second. There was more pace to come from the local star.

With a lead of nearly five minutes, Al-Attiyah throttled back on stage four, setting the seventh-quickest time and dropping two minutes to Ferreira. The five-time Dakar-winning Qatari smartened his progress through the weekend’s final stage to win by 2m46s from Ferreira.

The battle for the final place on the podium ebbed and flowed throughout the rally, with Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Lucas Moraes and Mini JCW’s Sainz going toe-to-toe. Moraes held onto fourth at the end of stage two – a day the Brazilian admitted was not his best as he struggled for grip in his Hilux.


Local star Ferreira was the hero of the hour, winning stages and landing a superb second place in the Mini

Despite that, he usurped Sainz on the longest run of the rally, only to slip back behind the superstar Spaniard on the penultimate test. Moraes had the final say in the last stage, gapping Sainz by over two minutes ahead to claim the bottom step of the podium for TGR.

There was frustration in the sister TGR Hilux of Seth Quintero. The Californian was third quickest in the prologue, but lost an alternator belt in the first and second stages, meaning he was out of contention early doors. He did, however, bounce back and set the second-fastest time on stage four and finished 16th at the end.

In the Challenger class reserved for T3 Lightweight Prototype machinery, Rokaš Baciuška took overall victory in his Can-Am by over seven minutes from Armindo Araújo and Pedro Ré. The star of the show after the second stage was undoubtedly nine-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb, competing in the Challenger class with the Red Bull Off-Road Team USA outfit for the first time.

Loeb was fourth after day one and then took the overall lead with victory in stage two. Engine overheating issues cost him more than an hour, dropping him out of contention for the victory. Team-mates Cristina Gutiérrez Herrero fared far worse on what was effectively a home rally. She placed fifth in the prologue but fell into a ditch on the opening test.


Nine-time world champion Loeb thrilled fans and had a ball on his Can-Am debut. Sadly an overheating engine ruled the Frenchman out

“[It was] a pity,” Gutiérrez Herrero said. “We were going very well in the stage, everything was perfect, but a small hole 30km from the finish made me slip over a bridge and fall directly into a river.

“It was at very low speed but there was nothing I could do. We got really lucky that the car got stuck in some trees because there was another five metres until the river. But, when the team recovered the car, there wasn’t a scratch on it.”

Mechanical issues in the second stage meant the pairing could not continue in the rally, despite Gutérrez Herrero not being a registered W2RC competitor and therefore not eligible to score points.