ALKHOBAR: The new Sharqiya Baja 2019, the fifth and final round of the inaugural Saudi Toyota Desert Rally Championship, will take place at 3:15 p.m. on Thursday with a timed super special stage of 4.32 km.
Ahead of a field of 51 cars, nine NUTVs, 10 motorcycles, 23 quads and one truck will be two further days of competitive action through the deserts of the Eastern Province and 474.86 competitive kilometers in a compact route of 746.58 km.
Several international drivers, most notably Spaniard Carlos Sainz, Zimbabwe’s Conrad Rautenbach, Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and Czech Miroslav Zapletal will use the opportunity to finalize their preparations for January’s Dakar Rally.
In contrast, the massive Saudi contingent is spread across several categories and sporting disciplines, and the series finale will decide the outcome of the drivers’ championship and the winner of the quad section.
Saudi Arabia’s leading drivers, Yazeed Al-Rajhi (Toyota Hilux) and Yasir Seaidan (X-raid Buggy), have fought a fascinating tussle for supremacy in the new series.
Seaidan won the Aseer Rally opener and finished behind his rival at the Qassim Rally, the AlUla-Neom event and the Riyadh Rally.
The pair are now separated by just three points, heading into the showdown on Half Moon Bay.
An outright victory would give either driver the title, with 25 points awarded to the winner, 18 for second place and 15 for third. The two drivers, however, face strong opposition from a plethora of Saudi rivals.
ED Racing’s Essa Al-Dossari is a distant third in the series in his Nissan Navara, and can confirm that position by staying ahead of Mutair Al-Shammeri, Khalid Al-Feraihi and Faris Al-Shammeri.
Salman Al-Shammeri has already clinched the T2 title by scoring maximum points in the category for series production cross-country vehicles in three of the four rallies. His closest challenger is Yousef Al-Suwaidi, winner of the T2 in the Qassim Rally.
Saleh Al-Saif confirmed success in the T3 before the recent event in Riyadh, and tackled that rally in the NUTV class, while Ibrahim Al-Muhanna, Osama Al-Sanad and Raed Abo Theeb have cruised to the T4 title in a Mercedes truck.
Yousef Al-Dhaif has an unassailable lead over Fahad Al-Naim and Khalil and Majid Al-Tuwaijri in the NUTV Championship, but the latter trio will be battling to finish as runners-up in the popular category. Motorcycle honors have already gone to Mishal Alghuneim with Abdullah Al-Helal finishing the series in second place, but a host of riders still have a shot at claiming third overall.
Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi won the quad section at the Qassim and AlUla-Neom rallies, but a retirement in Riyadh has left the door open for Riyadh Al-Oraifan to snatch the title in the Eastern Province. He trails his fellow Yamaha rider by 21 points, with 25 available for the outright win.
Several riders can still finish third, but Abdul Aziz Al-Shayban heads into the ceremonial start on Half Moon Bay leading Riyadh event-winner Sufiyan Al-Omar by six points.
The event is 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.
The new Baja runs with the support of the SAMF, the General Sports Authority, Abdul Latif Jameel Motors (Toyota), the MBC Group, Al-Arabia Outdoors and the Saudi Research and Marketing Group.
The event is being considered as an official candidate for future inclusion in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas.