Nasser Al-Attiyah’s frustration must be huge right now. On Thursday DirtFish reported on a superspecial shunt which looked to have robbed him of any hope another Middle East Rally Championship win.
Friday was about six stages and 70 competitive miles. Starting 12m51.4s behind the leader, the recent Dakar winner had one aim: to be fastest everywhere. He did just that. On the day’s opening 13.7-mile test, he was 1m03s quicker than anybody else.
Five stages later and he had hauled 6m24s out of leader Abdullah Al-Rawahi’s Škoda.
With 70 more competitive miles to go on Saturday, the difference was 6m27.4s.
Or that’s how it looked.
At 2:15pm on Friday afternoon, the stewards in Muscat issued decision number two.
Because Al-Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel had driven on SS1 without their belts on, following the accident which damaged the radiator, they would be hit with a five-minute penalty in accordance with Appendix L Chapter III. That’s the section of the rulebook relating to driver’s equipment being used for every meter of every special stage.
It’s a fair cop.
But it kind of killed what had the makings of one of the most famous fightbacks in the sport’s history.
Neil Perkins is a man who has reported on pretty much every one of 85 MERC wins and he’s confident Al-Attiyah could have made it 86 on Saturday afternoon.
Instead, he started the final day 11 and a half minutes off the lead. Fightback from that and it really would’ve been a story.
Coming into Saturday’s stages in seventh, he quickly displaced those ahead to move towards the podium places.
It was a gradual slide up the standings, picking off his rivals one at a time, could the unlikely come to life?
The short answer to that, unfortunately for Al-Attiyah, was no.
Despite gaining four minutes on the leader throughout the final day he found himself a further seven minutes shy of victor Al-Rawahi come the end of the last stage, with Petr Kačírek splitting the pair in second, some six and a half minutes behind first place.
No 86th MERC victory for Al-Attiyah this weekend, but how he drove during the rally after his crash shows exactly why he has the previous 85.