All riders were in for quite a surprise at the start line of the Qatar Cross Country Rally. The route of the prologue ran through a muddy track covered by salty water, situated near Losail Circuit. The riders, who race here every year, are not used to such conditions and many of them lost priceless seconds. Rafał Sonik came up second in the quads category and he has the right to select his starting position before the first stage.
‘My attitude was great before the prologue. I abandoned the Honda, which has an independent rear suspension, in favour of Yamaha Raptor. I had the opportunity to get used to it during tests and everything was fine, until… the first time I drove through the water. It was a deep, salty pool of water. The first one of the many. The engine died on me twice, but the most important thing is that it started up again without any problems and that I could reach the finish line with quite a good time,’ said Rafał Sonik, who came up second among four-wheelers and twelfth in the joint classification with bike riders.
The latter is important, as the place among top 15 riders allows the riders to select their starting position during the first stage, which is a key element of the strategy for the entire rally. ‘I’m number four and this is the lowest that I could go. Probably the best bike riders will catch up with us soon, and they will drag us a bit. I suspect that we will drive in a group of a few quads and we will drive on until the finish line together, because you simply can’t drive ahead of your rivals here. I’d rather not speculate, as there are so many factors here and the events might not go as planned.’
‘The greatest unknown,’ continued Sonik, ‘is how Yamaha will deal with rocks and stones that litter this desert. I was here five times already, but each time I drove a Honda, and I must abandon it. This is a time for change, so even though I’m the only competitor here that has competed in Qatar so many times, I don’t feel like a favourite,’ he added.
The second round of the World Cup will be crucial for the rivalry in the series. Two fast riders from South America will surely be in the run during the rallies in Chile and Argentina, so points gained by them in Qatar can be worth their weight in gold. Kees Koolen (Holland), who drives the best quad of them all, also promises to fight for the highest trophy. ‘I must make up for the points I lost in Abu Dhabi, to be in he running for the final win. Each day, I’ll start the rally with my objective in mind. I know this rally well enough to remember that the situation can change any second. I’ve seen riders who went round in circles in the desert, losing a dozen or so minutes. Anything can happen, but I’m sure I’m up for a good result, just as good as over the past five years,’ ended Sonik, who had won Qatar Cross Country Rally three times.
On Wednesday, the riders will complete the first out of the four stages. The plans involve 334 km of a special stage and close to 94 km of access roads. This means a journey through the wilderness from a Rawdat Rashed villate, situated in the centre of the country, to the west and to the south, where the flat, rocky desert is transfromed into sandy dunes.
Results of the prologue