Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Leeroy Poulter and navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz finished the short opening stage of the 2017 Qatar Cross Country Rally in third place – just 9.7s off the pace set by Nasser Al Attiyah and navigator Mathieu Baumel, driving an identical South-African built Toyota Hilux. The pair finished the 4.85 km “super special stage” just 1.8 seconds behind Yazeed Al Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk (MINI), and have a handy buffer of 5.2 seconds to the MINI of Jakub Prygonski and Tom Colsoul behind them.

Leeroy Poulter and Dirk von Zitzewitz

Leeroy Poulter and Dirk von Zitzewitz
Image via QuickPic

The stage, run on the outskirts of Qatar’s capital, Doha, was extremely rough, with many hidden obstacles. As a result, Poulter/Von Zitzewitz started cautiously, but was clearly right on the pace from the get-go.

“Today’s stage was very short, but it was very easy to get it wrong,” said Poulter after completing the day’s challenge. “We started on a motocross track, before crossing some really rough terrain. Dirk and I opted for a cautious approach, as there’s no sense in throwing everything away on Day 1.”

Even so, the Toyota Hilux ran perfectly, never missing a beat. “We’re really pleased with the way the car performed today,” said Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall. “This despite the smaller air restrictor, prescribed by the FIA for races below 1,000 metres in average altitude. But tomorrow the real race starts, and there’s a lot of tricky navigation on the cards.”

After concluding Stage 1, the top drivers had to draw a starting position for Stage 2. This can be critical in a race where navigation is key, and Poulter was somewhat unlucky to draw number 2 on the road for the stage, with early race leader Al Attiyah starting in tenth.

The entire race route of 1,373 km takes place to the west of Doha, with various stages crossing each other during the event. This will test the navigators to the full, starting with tomorrow’s stage of 334 km.

The Qatar Cross Country Rally features a total of five stages, including the Super Special opening stage. The race concludes in Doha on Saturday, 22 April 2017.

  1. Al Attiyah/Baumel (Toyota)             4:27.10
  2. Al Rajhi/Gottschalk (MINI)              +7.9
  3. Poulter/Von Zitzewitz (Toyota)    +9.7­
  4. Prygonski/Colsoul (MINI)               +14.9
  5. Domzala/Gospodarczyk (Toyota) +17.3

In the bike category it was an all KTM affair at the front of the field with the Austrian manufacturer’s riders taking a clean sweep of the podium. Antoine Meo led the way from Matthias Walkner and Dakar winner Sam Sunderland.

  1. Antoine Meo (FRA), KTM, 4:31.90 min
  2. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, +6:90 sec
  3. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, +8.30
  4. Pela Renet (FRA), Husqvarna, +10.90
  5. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, +14:70