ALL eyes will be on Qatar for November’s World Cup.
The home team gets a free pass and I’ll bet you a pint that they don’t get past the group stage.
Qatar is not a nation famous for its soccer skills.
But they have such a great sports hero as David Beckham.
You’ve probably never heard of him, but Nasser Al-Attiyah is the absolute GOAT in this corner of the world.
I will go through his CV for you:
4 x Dakar Rally victories
5 x second at the Dakar Rally
1 x Dakar Rally 3
(That’s ten podiums from 17 starts in the world’s toughest endurance race)
17-time Middle East Rally Champion
1 x World Rally Production Champion
2 x WRC2 Champion
Oh, he also took Olympic bronze at London 2012 for men’s skeet shooting.
Qatar even gives school children books about Nasser’s achievements – that’s how great he is.
It’s also worth noting that this is the man who kept one of Britain’s most popular motorsport teams in business in 2013.
When Ford withdrew from WRC, M-Sport was in the pooch.
But Nasser enlisted support from the state of Qatar to fund a number of rookie drivers including British ace Elfyn Evans.
Proving he’s both a top guy and a top line rider.
We met Nasser, his dog Dakar and a toy box of Toyotas at his second home in Spain.
As you might expect, his back garden is one big rally course. There is not a rose bush in sight.
First flying lessons in his Dakar-winning Gazoo Racing Hilux pickup, powered by a 5-litre V8 monster.
Nasser, we’re taking off.
The acceleration isn’t a surprise – but the way everything else works rewrites what you think you know about physics.
It handles like a hot hatch, absorbs jumps like falling on a pillow bed, and the brakes are insane. It’s a ballet dancing hippopotamus.
Of course, your standard everyday Hilux is nails, but this Dakar racer gets hammered to within an inch of its life for two weeks.
Which brings me nicely to our second toy, the new top of the range Hilux GR Sport, coming soon to a retailer near you.
It’s got all the usual motorsport tinsel – sporty seats, red stitching, aluminum pedals and whatnot – plus retuned suspension to improve handling and road comfort.
The 2.8-liter diesel engine is matched to a six-speed paddle-shift auto and produces 204 hp and 500 Nm.
You can’t go far wrong with Hilux. It’s a brilliant, honest, unstoppable 4×4.
But if you want all the bells and whistles, the Hilux GR Sport costs £37,551 excluding vodka and tonic.
Finally, we come to the GR Yaris Iberian Cup rally car.
I want one.
Special little car
When we tried out a GR Yaris in 2020, we said it was the new favorite of performance car fans.
Small, light, trick suspension, all-wheel drive, locking differentials on both axles and the most powerful three-cylinder engine of any production car in the world. All for £31,000.
We said it was the perfect Clubman’s rally car.
We were right.
The GR Yaris Iberian Cup consists of nine rallies in Spain and Portugal and a race-ready car costs £55,000. Let’s hope there’s a British series one day.
Much of the car is stock but with an added roll cage, fire extinguishers, racing seats, racing exhaust and roof air intake.
I say you won’t find anything that offers as much fun for the money – and Nasser clearly agrees.
He said: “It’s very nicely done. Even a hobby driver can feel comfortable very quickly. And it’s a very good price. It’s a special little car.”
Nasser won’t stop racing until he rewrites Dakar history, much like Lewis Hamilton in Formula 1 and Sebastien Loeb in the WRC.
Nasser said: “The Dakar record is seven wins. My goal is to surpass that – and then switch to trucks.
“Qatar is a small country. It’s a special feeling to be my country’s ambassador and to fly the flag. I get a lot of support. They keep telling me, ‘Until we find the next Nasser, you can’t stop’.”
We’ll likely see him in the number 9 shirt next.
KEY FACTS: TOYOTA HILUX GR SPORT
- Price: £37,551 ex VAT
- Engine: 2.8 liter turbo diesel Power: 204 hp, 500 Nm0-62mph: 10.7 sec
- Top speed: 109km/h
- Economy: 29mpg
- CO2: 248g/km
- The end: June