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Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi recorded his third win in five days on the penultimate stage of Rally Kazakhstan between Kenderly and Aktau in the Mangystau oblast on Thursday.
The second fastest time enabled Poland’s Jakub Przygonski to trim Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah’s overall lead to 6min 07sec heading into the final loop through the deserts north of Aktau City on Friday. Al-Attiyah suffered a minor gearbox issue and lost some time in the sand dunes.
Al-Rajhi and German navigator Timo Gottschalk began the 370.9km competitive section fourth on the road and were quickly into a competitive pace. The Mini John Cooper Works Rally driver shadowed Przygonski and his Belgian co-driver Tom Colsoul to the finish of a stage that retraced the tracks that had been used on leg two, but run in the opposite direction on this occasion. The special looped around Zhanaozen to finish just short of the remote settlement of Zhetybay.
Al-Rajhi said:

“It was a good stage. There was a lot of dust and we start number four. We push to catch Kuba and Nasser and then we follow until the finish. It’s good to take another stage win.”

Al-Attiyah and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel began the day with a lead of 9min 51sec in their Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux. Despite dropping time to Przygonski, Al-Attiyah has a relatively comfortable cushion to take into the final stage, as he bids to lead the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies for the first time this season. 

“We still have a good lead to take into the last day, but it was not an easy stage and we had a small problem with the gearbox in the second dunes,” 

said Al-Attiyah. 

“It was nothing serious and we will be all set for the last day.”

Aron Domzala was not able to close the gap on Przygonski and challenge for second position. The second Toyota driver ceded 11min 38sec to his fellow Pole and looks set to reach the finish in third overall. He now trails by 16min 18sec. Last year’s rally winner, Yuriy Sazonov, remains a distant fourth overall in his Hummer H3 after another solid stage performance behind the official team drivers.

“It was quite good for us and, for the first 200km, we were trying to pass Nasser but there was so much dust that it was impossible,”

said Przygonski.

“Then, in the dunes, he was stuck and we overtake him and we pushed to the finish. It was hard navigation, but a nice stage.”

After losing two positions when vital suspension bolts gave way on the fourth stage on Wednesday, Miroslav Zapletal was back into a good pace on the penultimate stage and the Czech was able to set the fourth quickest time. But race officials awarded the Hummer H3 driver 100 hours of time penalties overnight and Miroslavn is out of contention for a top eight finish.
Yerden Shagirov had been awarded 6hrs 45min of time penalties for supposedly missing a series of waypoints on day three, but race officials removed these when it came to light that a tracking error had occurred. It meant the Kazakh was reinstated in fifth overall to the detriment of Lithuanian driver Antanas Juknevicius, who slipped back to sixth.
Seventh-placed Yasir Saeidan remains well clear of any of his T2 rivals in a Toyota Land Cruiser. With Russian navigator Alexey Kuzmich reading the road book, Saeidan now has a massive advantage in the category for series production cross-country vehicles.
Dmitry Pitulov and Zhanat Zhalimbetov lost further time in the last series of sand dunes, but there were good stage performances by Kirill Chernenkov, Viktor Khoroshavtsev and AMFK President Marat Abykayev. Adel Abdulla and Pavel Loginov were running a little further behind after ongoing delays.
 
Thursday – as it happened
 
Al-Attiyah led his rivals into the start of the penultimate 370.9km competitive section from Kenderly to Aktau, but a freak torrential rainstorm literally inundated rally head quarters at the Marriott Renaissance Hotel in Aktau in the early hours of Thursday morning. According to the hotel’s banqueting manager, the last week has witnessed the most rain to fall in the area on record and it forced rally officials to shift their operations to different offices at the 11th hour.
The competitive action started on time, however, and Al-Rajhi signalled his intent from the outset by reaching the end of the opening section, before a short neutralisation zone, 29 seconds quicker than Al-Attiyah.
Mohammed Abu Issa’s miserable rally continued; the Qatari has not been able to enjoy a clean run on any of the five stages. He started the event third in the overall championship standings, but ground to a halt shortly after the neutralised section with technical issues and dropped at least half an hour as a result. He then made the decision to head directly to Zhanaozen and incur another fistful of time penalties for failing to complete the stage.

“Unfortunately for me this rally has been full of mechanical and electrical problems every day,” 

said Abu Issa. 

“We are learning from our mistakes and it’s good to happen here and not on Dakar. I am thinking positively and I hope I can finish.”

Al-Rajhi, Al-Attiyah and Przygonski were running close together at the front of the field as the stage passed near to Ushtagan and Al-Rajhi reached the checkpoint, after 263km, with a virtual stage advantage of 3min 52sec over Przygonski. Al-Attiyah was 4min 4sec behind his Polish rival, but still had a cushion to fall back on over the closing kilometres through the last of the dunes and on to the finish south of Zhetybay. Domzala passed the checkpoint 10 minutes down on Przygonski in the battle for second place.
Al-Rajhi held on to claim a third stage win in his Mini John Cooper Works Rally and Przygonski was able to reduce Al-Attiyah overall lead to 6min 07sec with the second fastest time.
 
Friday
 
The final selective starts 35.45km north of Aktau and includes parts of the opening timed test that were used last Sunday. The stage runs for 147.94km and includes repeat runs over the scenic tracks along the shores of the Caspian Sea. A short liaison of 41.75km then guides the finishing crews back to the podium in Aktau City.
 
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