MUSCAT: Punctures, technical difficulties and even the odd navigational hitch couldn’t hold back the highly competitive AZ Racing team during the first two days of the Manateq Qatar Cross Country Rally, where the Omani squad currently holds second in the T3 class as the event’s midway point nears.
Ahead of Leg Three of the opening round of the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup this morning, Sunday, February 24, Omani driver Abdullah Al Zubair and Qatari co-driver Nasser Al Kuwari sit just 22 seconds shy of the T3 lead having won an intense Leg Two yesterday.
Everything in Qatar began with the grand opening ceremony on the Pearl-Qatar in Doha on Thursday, February 21, with Leg One of the rally following on Friday, February 22, where the competitors contested the shortest stage of the event – just shy of 110 kilometres.
Al Zubair and Al Kuwari performed very strongly indeed in the South Racing prepared AZ Racing BRP Can-Am Maverick X3, leading the T3 class for more than 80 percent of the stage until suffering a luckless puncture around the 90 kilometre mark. Although quickly fitting a new wheel and tyre, the incident cost the duo five minutes and dropped them to fourth in T3 and 13th overall.
Leg Two on Saturday, February 23, marked one of the longest stages of the event through the remote Qatari desert and, at 323 kilometres, the test for both driver and navigator would be an intense one.
Unsurprisingly, the AZ Racing team-mates more than rose to the occasion and even though their challenge was severely hampered by two punctures, further technical problems and also a couple of detours, Al Zubair and Al Kuwari showed incredible speed, commitment and determination.
Losing around half an hour, a not insignificant amount of time to drop to their rivals, the duo fought back tremendously to claim a famous Leg Two victory in T3. With only 22 seconds separating them from the class lead ahead of Leg Three, the AZ Racing pair also hold ninth in the overall classification.
“Saturday’s stage was very tough with a lot of surprises, but we were very happy with the car. The day was a challenge, we got lost in the desert a few times and had technical difficulties but we pushed on and were very happy to finish P2 in class,. We’ve stuck with the leader of T3, only a few seconds behind going into day three, so I think we have a good chance,” said Abdullah Al Zubair.
“I am very happy with our performance so far, Abdullah and I are getting along very well and working strongly together. On Friday we had some navigation mistakes but today (Saturday) we learned more together, and more about each other, and I’ve been surprised with how fast Abdullah is – he’s an amazing driver and we are very happy with the stage win, said Nasser Al Kuwari.