Motorsport: Misfortune halts podium bid for AZ Racing in Qatar
February 27, 2019 | 2:20 PM
by Times News Service
Abdullah Al Zubair and navigator Nasser Al Kuwari of AZ Racing pose with the national flag on the stage. Supplied Photo

MUSCAT: Round one of the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup in the deserts of Qatar reached a bittersweet conclusion on Tuesday, for AZ Racing – the Omani team battling back to a top four T3 class finish despite encountering major misfortune throughout the week-long event.

Showcasing sensational speed and terrific teamwork between rapid driver Abdullah Al Zubair and navigator Nasser Al Kuwari, the duo claimed Leg Two class victory on Saturday, to sit second in T3 and well in contention ahead of the third stage of the rally on Sunday.

Frustratingly, turbo failure while leading T3 just 70 kilometres into Leg Three resulted in Oman’s Al Zubair and Qatar’s Al Kuwari having to head back to the service park in Losail in order for South Racing – the engineering strength behind AZ Racing – to repair the engine.

Incurring the maximum 100 hour time penalty as a consequence, hopes of podium success were sadly ended on the spot. Despite that though, and also a number of punctures throughout the rally, the Omani entry still delivered an impressive performance to confirm undoubted pace and potential.

Having fought back tremendously well from a costly puncture late on during the opening stage of the rally, Leg One on Friday, Al Zubair and Al Kuwari carved through the order on Saturday to move up into second place in T3 after winning a challenging Leg Two.

While far from straightforward, their BRP Can-Am Maverick X3 sustaining two punctures, some technical woes and also two detours off course, the AZ Racing duo starred to move to within little more than 20 seconds of the class lead.

For the Third Leg on Sunday, Al Zubair was determined to make significant headway over the 323 kilometres of Qatari desert which lay ahead but the day turned into a nightmare with the terrain throwing more problems at the Omani team. While all went well for the first 70 kilometres, leading the class, a loss of power at that point and white smoke from the engine told its own tale.

Returning to the heat of battle for Leg Four on Monday, carrying the huge 100 hour penalty, Al Zubair and Al Kuwari remained focused and determined to challenge as hard as they could. Split into two stages, the first section covered just under 230 kilometres and the AZ Racing duo led the way until 20 kilometres from the conclusion when sustaining another puncture.

Going on to then finish third in T3 after the subsequent stage of just over 120 kilometres, Al Zubair and Al Kuwari concluded the penultimate day of the rally fourth in class and in 12th position overall after performing very strongly through the mix of rocky terrain and big sand dunes.

Pushing for a strong finish during the final Leg on Tuesday morning, AZ Racing remained fourth in T3 by the end of the 264 kilometre stage, which took competitors along the west coast of Qatar before heading through the northern deserts and eventually ending in the east near Sidriyat Al-Kheesah, and improved to 11th in the overall classification.

“This was a long and tough rally, the toughest of the year in terms of navigation and on the car. The terrain in Qatar is very hard and it took its toll on us this year. We started very well and even though our engine trouble pulled us out of the podium fight on day three and we had to withdraw from the stage, we still managed to climb to fourth place. It’s been my first race with Nasser and I believe we worked well as a team, now we put our focus on the next rounds in Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” said Abdullah Al Zubair:

“Qatar’s rally is famous for its navigation challenges and, as usual, it didn’t disappoint this year. It was a tough one, it was my first time in the T3 category and also with a new driver, but I’m very happy with our performance and I think we did very well despite the problems we faced that were not in our hands. Now, I’m looking forward to the next rounds,” said Nasser Al Kuwari.

Round two of the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup will take place from March 30 to April 4, in Abu Dhabi. Before then, AZ Racing will be back in action for the second round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas from March 7 to March 9, in Dubai.

Subscribe to our newsletter and be the first to know all the latest news