ALULA: Saudi driver Yasir Seaidan saw his lead in the AlUla–Neom Cross-Country Rally trimmed to just 1 minute 14 seconds on Friday morning’s penultimate competitive section, as the stage-winning Yazeed Al-Rajhi set up the prospect of a thrilling finale on Saturday.
Leading by 2min 52sec at the night halt in AlUla, MINI All4 driver Seaidan and French co-driver François Cazalet sustained a puncture in the first 30km but went on to clock the second quickest time on the penultimate 231km timed section from Al Ula to the new city of Neom on a route that passed through the village of Abu Gazaz.
At the helm of a Toyota Hilux, Al-Rajhi and Russian navigator Konstantin Zhiltsov also survived two punctures and recorded a time of 1hr 31min 55sec.
The Spanish pairing of Formula One star Fernando Alonso and Marc Coma continued their rapid progression with a best stage performance thus far, Alonso clocking the third quickest time of 1hr 33min 50sec to close the gap on Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and Xavier Panseri to 6min 22sec in the battle for the final slot on the podium.
Abu Dhabi Racing’s Al-Qassimi was concerned by a down-on-power engine and was waiting for his engineer to assess any damage before he made a decision as to whether to continue into the final day.
The new Saudi Toyota Desert Rally Championship has attracted fierce competition across all categories. ED Racing’s Essa Al-Dossary continued to trade times with Czech rival Miroslav Zapletal and the Nissan Navara driver regained fifth in the overall classification by beating the Ford F-150 Evo by 65 seconds.
Saudi Arabia’s Khalid Al-Feraihi and French navigator Stephane Duple maintained seventh overall in a Nissan Patrol.
Mutair Al-Shammeri was eighth and Mohammed Al-Tijiwri and Faris Al-Shammeri rounded off the top 10, the latter setting the eighth fastest time with Jordanian co-driver Musa Djiyerian to continue a rapid climb through the field.
Salman Al-Shammeri held 11th overall and saw his TL2 category advantage over Sallal Al-Dossari increase to five minutes.
Yousef Al-Suwaidi was classified in 15th and led the T2 section for series production cross-country vehicles. Saleh Al-Saif dropped time in terms of the overall leader board but stayed on course for the TL3 section win.
Local driver Yousef Al-Dhaif and French co-driver Laurent Lichtleuchter continued to dominate the NUTV class in their Can-Am Maverick X3 from Majed Al-Tiwijri.
Mubarak Al-Zubaidi (Toyota) and Ahmed Al-Qashimi (Nissan) retired from the T1 class and joined ED Racing’s Abdullah Al-Huraiz, who did not start the day’s stage.
KTM rider Mishal Alghuneim maintained full control of the motorcycle category, although Abdullah Al-Helal did return to competition on Friday morning after incurring massive time penalties on Thursday. Yamaha’s Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi won a third successive stage in the quad category to increase his lead over closest rival Riyadh Al-Orafan to 56min 30sec.
The final selective section of 175km loops through the deserts around Neom in the northwest of Saudi Arabia on Saturday morning.