The 28-year-old hit the front of the field after just five kilometres of the opening stage this morning, when he passed the stricken Ford Fiesta S2000 of long-time and runaway leader Nasser Al-Attiyah. The Qatar driver’s Ford has succumbed to engine failure and, while he battled on through the Yakrut stage, the white smoke from the back of the Fiesta told its own tale. He pulled over and retired.
“It’s very disappointing,” said Al-Attiyah. “We went off the start line and I felt the power going from the engine, in the end there was nothing and we had to stop. We had done everything we could on this event, but some times this is the sport and it can happen.”
Sousa was next into the stage and he admitted passing Al-Attiyah did affect his concentration. “My head was everywhere when we passed him,” said the Portuguese, “then at the end of the stage, we had a spin as well. We dropped about 30 seconds in there, it was tough, but I am really sorry for Nasser, nobody likes it when this happens.”
Sousa’s focus returned to his own rally quickly enough as he endured a big moment on his own on the first run through the Baptism Site stage just before service.
“We hit a rock in the road,” he said, “it must have been the size of a football. It threw the car right up in the air and when we got to the end we saw the sump guard had been sliced open, it was incredible. Everything seems to be okay with the engine, though - but I think we are quite lucky.”
From then on, Sousa was just keeping an eye on the times and the dials directly ahead of him. “The car was getting a bit tired towards the end of the event,” said Sousa soon after spraying the champagne. “But we did it. This is a fantastic result for us and for the team.”
Estonian Karl Kruuda moves into the lead of the Super 2000 World Rally Championship - an impressive feat for the 18-year-old Skoda driver. Kruuda’s car was also suffering from the incredible heat in the stages and some of Jordan’s bigger rocks.
“We struggled a little bit with some of the uphill sections today,” he said, “the car was starting to lose power. We had a spin this morning, but that was the only thing today, we’re glad to get to the end of the event and in this position.”
Frigyes Turan’s hopes of a podium on his first ever gravel round of the World Rally Championship were dashed on the penultimate stage when his Markko Martin-run Ford Fiesta caught fire.
That problem elevated Hermann Gassner to third place, with the German battling back from a puncture yesterday to post fastest times on his way to placing his Skoda on the bottom step of the podium. Albert Llovera was fourth in his Abarth, while Eyvind Brynildsen returned under superally regulations to set fastest time after fastest time in his Fabia. Fifth place was his reward.
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"The car was getting a bit tired towards the end of the event - but we did it!"