Al-Rajhi improvises to seal dramatic victory in AlUla-Neom Cross-Country Rally

Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Konstantin Zhiltsov overcome punctures and power-steering issues to snatch victory. (Supplied)
Updated 10 November 2019

Al-Rajhi improvises to seal dramatic victory in AlUla-Neom Cross-Country Rally

  • Formula One star Alonso says Neom event ‘gives us confidence for Dakar’

ALULA: Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi improvised and overcame three punctures, power-steering issues and a faulty jack to snatch a dramatic victory in the Al Ula–Neom Cross-Country Rally, round three of the Saudi Toyota Desert Rally Championship, on Saturday.

Trailing fellow countryman Yasir Seaidan by 1min 14sec at the overnight halt, Al-Rajhi and his Russian navigator Konstantin Zhiltsov guided their Toyota Hilux to the fastest time of 1hr 30min 45sec on the final 175km loop stage around Neom to claim victory by a margin of 2min 09sec. 

With a broken jack, Al-Rajhi managed to hang the car over a roadside drainage pipe to enable the crew to replace a punctured tire during a dramatic morning’s action.

Al-Rajhi said: “The stage today was full of action and we did it well! We lost the first day with a small problem with the wheel nuts, but we pushed every day and today we attacked like hell. We did it well and we won the rally. It’s a nice feeling after all these problems. Konstantin did a great job and we are here with the win.”

Seaidan and French co-driver Francois Cazalet finished as runners-up in a MINI All4 Racing and the Spanish pairing of Formula One star Fernando Alonso and Marc Coma rounded off the podium places with the third fastest time on the final selective section.

Yasir added: “It was an interesting rally but difficult for us. We had many punctures and the last day was difficult navigation. In the end we finished in second place. That is a good result for us and we are still leading the championship with two rounds to go. It was nice to see Fernando Alonso here practicing over the terrain. It was a nice experience to have a world champion with us, for him and for us.”

Alonso said: “It was a good four days preparation for the Dakar and discovering new terrain and new things here. To be third in the final two stages and to be third in the overall is the first podium of my life in rally. It is good that it happened now and gives us confidence
for Dakar.”

Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi had been awarded a 10-minute penalty by rally officials after the third leg for a speeding infringement in a restricted zone, but it mattered little to the Emirati that he had been demoted to fourth place at the overnight halt behind Alonso. 

That was because the former regional rally champion’s engine had developed a serious oil leak and the decision was taken not to continue on Saturday. With Al-Qassimi’s Peugeot 2008 out of the running, ED Racing’s Essa Al-Dossary was able to fend off the challenge from Czech Miroslav Zapletal to claim fourth place in a Nissan Navara with French navigator Sebastien Delaunay.

Saudi Arabia’s Khalid Al-Feraihi and French navigator Stephane Duple climbed to sixth overall in a Nissan Patrol. Mutair Al-Shammeri and Faris Al-Shammeri finished seventh and eighth, Mohammed Al-Tijiwri slipped a place to ninth and Khalaf Al-Shammeri rounded off the top 10.

Salman Al-Shammeri came home in 11th place to confirm top spot in the TL2 category by 32min 27sec and Yousef Al-Suwaidi sealed the win in the T2 section for series production cross-country vehicles from Reda Al-Shammeri. Saleh Al-Saif held on to win TL3.

Yousef Al-Dhaif and French co-driver Laurent Lichtleuchter crushed their rivals in the NUTV class, the Can-Am Maverick X3 finishing 41min 23sec in front of the similar car of Majed Al-Tiwijri and Raed Al-Maziad.

KTM rider Mishal Alghuneim dominated the motorcycle category, in which Abdullah Al-Helal finished a very distant second, and Yamaha’s Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi cruised to victory in the quad class by 1hr 24min 48sec. Riyadh Al-Orafan was second and Walid Al-Shegawi rounded off the top three.  

The event was organized by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF), under the chairmanship of Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal and the supervision of former FIA Middle East champion Abdullah Bakhashab.

It was run with the support of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, the General Sports Authority, Abdul Latif Jameel Motors (Toyota), the MBC Group, Al-Arabia outdoors and the Saudi Research and Marketing Group.

Al-Taawoun sharpen attack with star signings

Updated 10 August 2020

Al-Taawoun sharpen attack with star signings

  • Looking to add Australia’s Mitchell Duke following the signing of Abdoulaye Sane from Sochaux in France
  • Buraidah side are sitting comfortably in mid-table with six games of the Saudi Pro League season remaining

Al-Taawoun are moving to bolster their strike force ahead of the next Saudi league season and the resumption of the 2020 AFC Champions League, with a move for Australia’s Mitchell Duke following Saturday’s signing of Abdoulaye Sane from Sochaux in France.

The Buraidah side are sitting comfortably in mid-table with six games of the Saudi Pro League season remaining, but have their eye on four games in 10 days in the continental competition, starting against Iran’s Persepolis on Sept. 15.

This season has been a disappointment for the club that finished third last time around. A lack of firepower has been identified as one reason for the relative slump, and with the refusal of Cameroonian striker Leandre Tawamba — top scorer last season with 27 goals — to extend his contract, Al-Taawoun have been in need of new signings.

If negotiations with Duke can be finalized in the coming days it will be something of a coup. The Western Sydney Wanderers captain has scored 11 goals in the 2019-20 A-League, despite the 2014 Asian Champions, who famously defeated Al-Hilal in the final, struggling.

“Talks have been ongoing,” an official from Al-Taawoun told Arab News. “Duke is experienced, can play in various positions in attack and is a competitive player. That’s why head coach Vitor Campelos likes him. He would be a very useful addition for us. He scores goals but also offers other things, too.”

The former Socceroos star is out of contract at the end of this month and available on a free transfer from the beginning of September. Coronavirus has hit Australian club finances and income from broadcasting is set to be reduced, meaning a number of A-League stars could head overseas.

“To be honest I have to assess my situation. I have a small family and with the difficult times, finance is an important factor,” Duke said. “So I’ll make my decision based on a few of those and we’ll see where it takes me.”

Duke added that “Asia is an exciting market” and the fact that Al-Taawoun are in the AFC Champions League and currently on top of Group C with two wins out of two games is another selling point.

The 29-year-old, who spent three years in Japan from 2015-18 with Shimizu S-Pulse, is on the shopping list of a number of European clubs, but the Wanderers are reluctant to lose their star even if they are powerless to stop his departure.

Coach Jean-Paul de Marigny knows it will be difficult to keep the in-demand player.

“Mitch Duke is a player that we want to retain, that’s very clear in our mind. He’s a big part of our plans and he represents us well. He’s a perfect fit for us in the football club and we’ll do our best to keep him here,” he said.

If Duke does arrive in Saudi Arabia at the start of September, he will link up with Sane, who joined Al-Taawoun on Saturday, signing a two-year deal — subject to a medical with the club. The Senegalese striker, 27, has spent his entire career in France with Rennes, Red Star and Sochaux.

The former international was out of contract after refusing to sign a new deal with Sochaux, where he scored 10 goals in the shortened French season.

“I would like Abdoulaye to stay with us,” said Sochaux sporting director Thomas Deniaud. “I can assure you that we would like him to stay. He wants to have a good contract at 27. We respect him. He is a good player and professional who is popular in the dressing room.”