ALL eyes will be on Qatar for the World Cup in November.
The home side get a bye and I’ll bet you a pint they won’t make it through the group stages.
Qatar is not a nation renowned for its footballing abilities.
But they have a sporting hero as great 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’ll show you his resume:
4 victories in the Dakar Rally
5 x Dakar vice-champion
1 x Dakar Rally 3rd
(That’s ten podiums in 17 starts in the world’s toughest endurance race)
17 x Middle East Rally Champion
1 x Production Rally World Champion
2x WRC2 Champion
Oh, he also won Olympic bronze at London 2012 in men’s clay pigeon shooting.
Qatar even gives schoolchildren books about Nasser’s achievements – that’s how big he is.
It’s also worth noting that he was the man who kept one of Britain’s most beloved motorsport teams running in 2013.
When Ford withdrew from the WRC, M-Sport was in the doggy do.
But Nasser has sorted out support from the state of Qatar to help fund a series of rookie pilots, including British ace Elfyn Evans.
Which proves that he is a top guy as well as a top driver.
We caught up with Nasser, his dog Dakar and a Toyota toy box at his second home in Spain.
As you’d expect, its back garden is one big rally course. There is not a rosebush in sight.
First, driving lessons in his Dakar-winning Gazoo Racing Hilux pickup, powered by a monster 5-litre V8.
Nasser, we have takeoff.
The acceleration isn’t a surprise – but the way it does everything else rewrites what you think you know about physics.
It handles like a hot hatch, soaks up jumps like falling on a bed of pillows, and the brakes are insane. He’s a ballet dancing hippopotamus.
Sure, your standard daily work Hilux is nails, but this Dakar racer is hammered within an inch of his life for two weeks straight.
Which brings me nicely to our second toy, the new top-of-the-line Hilux GR Sport, coming soon to a dealership near you.
It has all the usual motorsport tinsel – sporty seats, red stitching, aluminum pedals and the like. – as well as a retuned suspension to improve handling and comfort on the road.
The 2.8-litre diesel engine is mated to a six-speed paddle-shift automatic and produces 204bhp and 500Nm.
You won’t go wrong with any 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 small car
When we tried a GR Yaris in 2020, we thought it was the new darling of performance car fans.
Small, light and clever suspension, four-wheel drive, limited-slip 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 rally car for the clubman.
We were right.
The GR Yaris Iberian Cup consists of nine rallies in Spain and Portugal and a race-ready car costs £55,000. Hopefully there will be a UK series one day.
Much of the car is stock, but with the addition of a roll bar, fire extinguishers, competition seats, racing exhaust and roof air intake.
I say, you won’t find anything quite as fun for the money – and Nasser clearly agrees.
He said, “It’s very well done. Even an amateur pilot 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 Sébastien Loeb in the WRC.
Nasser said: “The Dakar record is seven victories. My goal is to beat that – then move on to trucks.
“Qatar is a small country. It’s a special feeling to be an ambassador for my country 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 will probably see him next with the No9 shirt.
KEY FACTS: TOYOTA HILUX GR SPORT
- Price: £37,551 excluding VAT
- Motor: 2.8-litre turbo diesel Power: 204 hp, 500 Nm0-100 km/h: 10.7 s
- Top speed: 109mph
- Economy: 29mpg
- CO2: 248g/km
- Outside: June