The competition team Racing 21 ended its first participation in the Kuwait Rally 2018 with a fourth place in the classification of the series FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC). The competition was arduous mainly due to the high demands on navigation in the local terrain. And it was this that stopped the crew of Štajf and Kučera in the ŠKODA Fabia R5 from competing for first place in the race, and the crash and subsequent vehicle repair in the second section robbed them of the chance for a better placing.
The navigator Ladislav Kučera took his place beside Vojtěch Štajf in the penultimate competition of this year's FIA Middle East Rally Championship, which had returned to the championship after two years. Before participating in the competition, the entire team attended an official reception at the embassy of the Czech Republic in Kuwait to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the republic.
The actual competition consisted of thirteen speed trials in the Kuwaiti desert near the brand new super-modern racetrack Kuwait Motor Town. The first speed trial was held directly inside its complex, and Vojtěch Štajf completed the local rally-cross track in the second fastest time. In the introductory phase of the competition in particular the leading driver of the championship, the Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah, utilised his knowledge from the previous years of the Kuwait Rally, where he had been the winner six times in the past. During the second section Štajf managed to hang on just about one minute behind the Qatar driver.
Unfortunately Vojtěch Štajf's attempt to maintain contact with the Qatari and the crew's loss of direction on the flat, unclear terrain of the fourth time trial caused a crash resulting in serious damage to the mechanical parts and bodywork of the ŠKODA Fabia R5. In spite of this bad luck, after 30 minutes in the servicing centre the team's mechanics centre managed to get the car into a state allowing it to continue in the competition. The damage to the car was more extensive than it had appeared during the noon servicing break, and so in the end the crew had to withdraw at the start of the third section due to the damage to the upper bearing of the front right shock absorber.
Then the team decided that in spite of the large time loss caused by the imposition of penalties for three trials they did not compete in, they would utilise the chance to continue in the competition under the Rally 2 rules, and they delivered the newly repaired car to the closed car park by designated time limit. So on the last day of the competition the remaining six timed sections awaited the crew of Štajf - Kučera, starting in fourth place in the MERC classification. Apart from the first of them, where once again the Czech crew took a wrong turn in one place and had to go back to the correct direction after a while, once again there was a tight competition between Štajf and Nasser Al-Attiyah for first place in the speed trials. Although in the end the Czech crew managed to improve their lead on the competitors trailing them, in spite of the final pressure of Vojtěch Štajf there was still a three-minute gap preventing them from improving their position on the winners' podium due to the large time differences caused by their penalisation. But in spite of this, the fourth place in the FIA MERC classification means that they gained important points.
The overall seventh victory of the Qatar-French crew of Nasser Al-Attiyah – Matthieu Baumel at the Kuwait Rally decided the winner of the championship title FIA Middle East Rally Championship even before the last race in Qatar. For the Qatari it is the record fourteenth title in this championship. And after four completed competitions out of four driven so far, Vojtěch Štajf is well on his way to winning the silver in the demanding Middle East Championship.
"First of all I want to congratulate the competitors for winning this year's title in the FIA MERC, which they deservedly managed to defend following last year's victory. And in particular the fourteenth title of Nasser in this championship is a truly respectable performance. Láďa and I came to Kuwait in an attempt to turn around the situation in the championship if Nasser hesitated in any way. But this didn't happen. We thought it would be an easier competition, but it turned out to be far from that. The desert and the constantly blowing wind made navigation extremely difficult for us in the speed trials, which resulted in errors and then time losses. We now know that it is necessary to use a GPS unit with record of the track's route. Our crash in the fifth stage was caused by our inexperience with this type of racing. We were attempting to go as fast as possible, but at one moment we went into a rut at high speed, and then the car went out of control on its roof. I don't want it to sound like a cliché, but our mechanics did incredible work overnight so that we could get back into the competition. I want to thank them too for our final fourth place in the MERC ranking. When I think of what we were facing during those three days in Kuwait, I have to be glad of that result. But right now we are dealing with the prompt transport of spares for the Fabia R5 to Qatar,“ said the driver Vojtěch Štajf, summing up the competition.
2018 Kuwait International Rally – Middle East Rally Championship:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Ford Fiesta R5
2. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X + 12:19.2
3. Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Nicola Arena (ITA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X + 28:03.7
4. Vojtĕch Štajf (CZE)/Ladislav Kučera (CZE) ŠKODA Fabia R5 + 31:06.1
5. Khaled Juma (JOR)/Emad Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X + 43:56.7
The last competition in the series FIA Middle East Rally Championship is the Rally of Qatar on 15 - 17 November 2018.
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