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DE VILLIERS/HARO TAKE OVER LEAD IN MOROCCO, AS AL ATTIYAH/BAUMEL RETIRES FROM STAGE 4Oct 8, 2019
ERFOUD, MOROCCO – Stage 4 of the 2019 Rally of Morocco was always going to be a tough one. With a race distance of 409 km, shortened to 311 km due to a technical problem with the organiser’s helicopter, the stage was one with hair on its chest. In the end it claimed the scalps of Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Nasser Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel, who were forced to retire while comfortably leading the five-stage race.
“Nasser made contact with a rock in the stage – nothing major, but it hit the Hilux in exactly the wrong place,” explained Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal Glyn Hall, after the stage. “We’ve not had this problem before, but it is certainly a chink in the armour that we’ll be investigating and fixing as soon as possible.”
The impact damaged the crank sensor of the Toyota Hilux, which caused the electronic engine management system to malfunction. The car could not be restarted despite several attempts by the crew and teammates, and had to be towed out.
“This is very disappointing for Nasser and Mathieu, as they were well on their way to a sixth consecutive win here in Morocco,” continued Hall. “And this may impact negatively on their FIA World Cup aspirations for the year. We’ll have to wait until the end of the rally to confirm the final standings in that regard.”
At the same time, Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Giniel de Villiers and navigator Alex Haro moved into the lead of the rally, despite a tough time on Stage 4: “We had a good start to the stage, but then struggled a bit with navigation, and ended up driving an extra 15 km,” said De Villiers after reaching the end of the stage near the town of Ouled Saaidane, close to the Algerian border. “We also stopped for a while with Nasser, and again later on to see if Stephane Peterhansel needed help.”
The latter stop was necessary as the MINI driver, partnered with his wife, Andrea, rolled his car down a steep dune face. The crew was uninjured, and De Villiers/Haro continued on their way to a 3rd place on the stage.
The stage was won by MINI’s Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz, with Jakub Przygonski and navigator Timo Gottschalk in second place. El Matador, as Sainz is also known, posted a time of 3hrs 33min 26sec, while ‘Kuba’ Przygonski followed 2min 32sec behind him. De Villiers/Haro were 5min 48sec further back.
This leaves De Villiers/Haro 4min 47sec ahead of Sainz/Cruz in the general classification, with just the final stage to go: “It is going to be a hell of a fight tomorrow,” said De Villiers with a little smile. “The stage is very rocky, and it is a bit of a roll of the dice going up that mountain. But we’ll both be pushing, that’s for sure.”
Further back, Bernhard ten Brinke and Tom Colsoul had a long day in the saddle. The pair are out of the running in terms of the podium places, and as a result they stopped to assist first Al Attiyah/Baumel, and then the Peterhansels.
They also donated a spare wheel to TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s Fernando Alonso and Marc Coma, who started the stage with just two spares, after suffering a puncture on the way to the start. They suffered two punctures early in the stage, but reached the stricken car of Al Attiyah/Baumel while Ten Brinke/Consoul were lending assistance, and stocked up on spares for the rest of the stage.
One more stage remains in the 2019 Rally of Morocco. At 210 km in length, it might still have a sting in the tail. The stage is essentially a reversal of Stage 1, but now requires a steep climb up a rocky mountain pass, which could play havoc with the tyres. The event will draw to a close with a ceremonial finish in the central city of Fes.
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