Nasser Al-Attiyah has won Rally Qatar for a record-extending 16th time to increase his lead in the Middle East Rally Championship, defeating former World Rally Championship rivals Kris Meeke and Mads Østberg.
Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel’s winning margin of 4m38.4s didn’t reflect the closeness of the competition as both European visitors Meeke and Østberg led Al-Attiyah’s Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 in their Škoda Fabia Rally2 evos before they each hit trouble.
Meeke and co-driver Chris Patterson – starting his first event since last year’s Rally Spain alongside Gus Greensmith – were the early leaders of the rally after winning both of the first two stages, but their event unraveled on the fourth stage with a roll at the first corner.
“First hairpin right of the stage,” Meeke rued. “It was a junction and I came in, handbraked it in and I just caught the rut. I thought I had it, balanced it on two wheels but, unfortunately, it went over.
“We had to wait for spectators to push us back and I had to get out of the car. The car is fine. We’ll hang in there. You never know. It’s just a pity… a silly hairpin right.”
Meeke’s error dumped him down to fifth overall and left his Citroën team-mate of 2014-15 Østberg out in front on his first-ever event in a Škoda and alongside co-driver Ilka Minor.
He held a 12.2s lead over Al-Attiyah overnight but then had to open the road on the second day, admitting he “discussed if we should play some tactics” and let Al-Attiyah lead overnight to therefore sweep the stages clear of loose gravel again, but “we decided not to”.
It looked to be a wise decision as Østberg was fastest on the first stage of Saturday but by the end of the morning loop, 2022 Dakar winner Al-Attiyah had snuck ahead as Østberg’s rally began to curtail.
First Østberg got “a little bit lost” on one of the stages and then picked up a puncture to fall to 25.7s behind ahead of the final stage, but the 2020 WRC2 champion wouldn’t make it as he was forced to retire his Fabia on the road section with a water leak.
— Mads Østberg (@MadsOstberg) February 12, 2022
That released all pressure on Al-Attiyah who finished comfortably clear of second-placed Abdullah Al-Rawahi, with Meeke climbing back onto the podium in third.
Mshari Al-Thefiri and Zakarya Al-Amri completed the top five in their Mitsubishi Lancer and Subaru Impreza respectively.
Final positions – top 10
1 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Volkswagen Polo) 1h44m44.5s
2 Abdullah Al-Rawahi/Ata Al-Hmoud (Škoda Fabia) +4m38.4s
3 Kris Meeke/Chris Patterson (Škoda Fabia) +6m07.0s
4 Mshari Al-Thefiri/Nasser Al-Kuwari (Mitsubishi Lancer) +23m34.8s
5 Zakarya Al-Amri/Mohammed Al-Amri (Subaru Impreza) +34m31.3s
6 Issa Abu Jamous/Emad Juma’a (Mitsubishi Lancer) +44m05.7s
7 Ihab Al-Shorafa/Yousef Juma (Mitsubishi Lancer) +45m08.8s
8 Mohammed Al-Attiyah/Savvas Laos (Mitsubishi Lancer) +48m03.8s
9 Edith Weiss/Serena Mattivi (Mitsubishi Lancer) +49m48.4s
10 Ahmed Allouh/Feras Allouh (Can-Am Maverick) +57m28.9s