HAIL: Local favorite Yazeed Al-Rajhi and his Northern Irish co-driver Michael Orr stormed into an 8 minutes, 50 seconds lead after the opening 227 km selective section of the 15th Hail Nissan Rally — round one of the 2020 Saudi Desert Rally Championship — on Wednesday afternoon.
The Toyota Hilux Overdrive crew carded a time of 2:21:59 for the stage, which started and finished near Baqaa, to seal a comfortable six-minute overnight lead over the Saudi Hummer driver Saleh Alabdelali and his experienced former World Rally Champion navigator Ole Floene.
“Everything is good,” said Al-Rajhi. “We lead but we were taking it easy. The most important thing is to finish without any mistakes and to take the double points at the start of the championship. Michael is doing a good job. Everything was perfect.”
Alabdelali said: “The (stage was) very nice. I (kept up) a good speed for 50 kilometers and then we had some big dunes. After that, I gained some speed and then I was cautious. Ole is with me in this car for the first time and he is happy. We had a big jump and he likes the car. It is a good start for the Yazeed Racing Team with first and second. Tomorrow I can push.”
Veteran Czech driver Miroslav Zapletal and his Slovakian navigator Marek Sykora came home in third place and Ahmed Al-Shammeri and Ziad Al-Harbi were a distant fourth in their Nissan, but topped the T2 standings for series production cross-country vehicles — a four-stage event organized by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF) and featuring 50 cars, one truck, 18 motorcycles and 30 quads.
Emirati brothers Sultan and Mohammed Al-Balooshi dominated the opening stage of the motorcycle category on their KTMs, with Sultan finishing the special 2:59 ahead of his sibling. Anas Al-Ruhayani led the Saudi challenge in third place.
Mohammed Al-Balooshi said: “Today was a good stage for me. It is good to do these kind of races to prepare for the bigger events, like Dakar 2021. I (led) the whole stage until the finish and I am proud of that. I’m sitting second now, behind my brother. But I am happy with the one-two for us.”
Yamahas dominated the quad section, with Sufyan Al-Omar set the fastest time ahead of Riyadh Al-Oraifan, Abdulsalem Al-Hamam and Abdulaziz Al-Shayban.
The rally is being held under the patronage of Hail Gov. Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saad Al-Saud and Prince Faisal bin Fahd Al-Saud, the chairmanship of Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Faisal, and the supervision of the Hail Regional Development Authority, in cooperation with the General Authority for Tourism and National Heritage and the General Authority for Sport.