13 Jun 09
In a day of drama which mirrored the incredible scenes in the fight for overall victory, Nasser Al-Attiyah re-ignited his hopes of clinching a P-WRC hat-trick by moving into the lead of the Group N category at the end of day two.
Al-Attiyah put on a major charge through the final stage of the day to leap-frog his way from third into the lead, having dropped time in the second run through Ghymno, when the boot on his Subaru Impreza WRX came open.
Al-Attiyah’s problem cost him time, but not as much as that of local favourite Lambros Athanassoulas. Just as Patrik Sandell’s Skoda motor had run sick in the morning, so the lead machine did in the afternoon. Halfway through the middle stage of the afternoon loop, Athanassoulas’s Fabia dropped into three cylinders. He made it through the stage still in the lead, but he lost out in SS12.
“There’s nothing more I can do,” he said at the end of the day. “Okay, the gap is only eight seconds, so we will fight tomorrow, but we have to see what is the problem here and can it be fixed. I will try tomorrow, for sure.”
He’s going to have his work cut out, though; last-day - and last-stage - battles are an Al-Attiyah speciality. The Subaru driver was ready and waiting to get back into the thick of the fight. “The last stage was good,” said overnight leader Al-Attiyah. “But in the stage before, the boot opened and all of the dust came in. It was incredible, we couldn’t breath - it was just like Dakar. We have no choice for tomorrow, we have to push. We will fight.”
And the fight for the win wasn’t limited to the two of them. Just 1.1 seconds behind Athanassoulas was Armindo Araujo’s Mitsubishi. While Al-Attiyah floundered in the SS11 dust, Araujo had stolen his way into second place and looked well set to take advantage of Athanassoulas’s troubles, only for his Lancer to suffer a broken wheel.
The crestfallen Portuguese said: “This was too much. It was the middle of the stage [that the wheel broke]. Without that, it could have been good. We will see if we can fight tomorrow.”
One man who wouldn’t be engaging in that final-day battle would be double P-WRC champ Toshi Arai. After his best event for some time, Arai dropped time with a front-right puncture on the final stage of Saturday.