HAIL: The duel between Mini’s Carlos Sainz and Toyota’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah was rekindled in explosive fashion on the opening Baqqa selective section of Hail Baja 2 on Tuesday.
The triple Dakar winners continued the fight for supremacy that they had begun at the fourth round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas last weekend. The Spaniard and co-driver Lucas Cruz moved in front of their rival after around one-third of the day’s 311.57-km stage — after the Toyota Hilux driver stopped to change a puncture — and went on to win the special by 2min 20sec.
Sainz’s stage win deprived Al-Attiyah and his French co-driver Matthieu Baumel of half a point, as they try and hunt down Russian Vladimir Vasilyev (Mini) and Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke (Toyota) to snatch the FIA Baja title. But second place was sufficient for Al-Attiyah to claim one bonus point for his runner-up spot.
“Today was a good run but we had two flat tires (one wheel off rim) and we stopped and we changed,” Al-Attiyah said. “We lost more than four minutes. After that, we came to the finish and we are only 2min 20sec to Carlos. It is OK. Today we tested the new tires for Dakar. We need to have more experience of these tires.”
Stage winner Sainz said: “It was OK, no problems. Some sandy tracks and some small dunes and fast sections. We keep trying different things, but all is OK.”
Sainz’s teammate Stephane Peterhansel pipped early stage leader Yazeed Al-Rajhi (Toyota) to the third fastest time and a late surge pushed Vasilyev into fifth spot, with Ten Brinke slipping behind his Overdrive Toyota teammate Jakub Przygonski into seventh after a late puncture.
Peterhansel said: “It was again an interesting day. The end was a little bit fast. The navigation was not too easy. We continue to do testing and training. It is a very good opportunity to be here.”
Fourth-place Al-Rajhi added: “Today, after 97km, we were leading. After, I catch Peterhansel, I see him and I have a flat tire. I fix it and go and we push and we touch third position again. Then I have second puncture before the finish, around 80km. After, I was scared because I did not have more spare tire. But the speed is there. This, the first time I drive this new car. Now I have a good feeling for Dakar and that is important. Tomorrow I will push a little bit to try and get third position.”
Ten Brinke said: “We had a puncture after 40km and lost one-and-a-half minutes. Then Nasser passed us. It was quite impressive that he passed us already after 45km. We followed Nasser until the neutralization. He did a good job to be first car and we followed him. We are both fighting for our own titles. It is a free fight. The second part, we were together, Nasser. Vasilyev and me and we were pushing; 50km from the finish, I got a puncture again on a fast right-hander. The tire was off the rim and we needed to change it.”
Yasir Seaidan bounced back from a disappointing Hail Baja 1 in his SRT Century Buggy to record the eighth fastest time — a puncture cost him a potential fifth or sixth place — and Czech driver Martin Prokop (Ford) and Erik van Loon (Toyota) rounded off the top 10.
Saudi driver Saleh Al-Saif completed the stage in 15th overall and claimed the bonus points for the fastest time in the FIA T3 section in his Can-Am Maverick X3. Second place for Vasily Gryazin keeps the Russian firmly on course for the title, but Guillaume de Mevius’s challenge hangs in the balance after delays on the stage.
Fifteen motorcycles and 12 quads were permitted to start the opening leg of Hail Baja 2. Kuwait’s Mohammed Al-Jaffar joined forces with Konrad Dabrowski in the Duust Rally Team and was running second quickest behind Frenchman Adrien Van Beveren through 106 km.
Van Beveren eventually cruised to a 35min 14sec stage win on his factory Yamaha, leaving a host of local riders to battle it out with Dabrowski for the minor places. Anass Al-Rehyani claimed second on the day from Mishal Al-Ghuneim, after both fourth-placed Dabrowski and Jaffar lost time.
Riyadh Saud Al-Shammeri and Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi renewed their rivalry in the quad category and the former followed up his Hail Baja 1 win by edging into a 2min 01sec lead on his Yamaha. Faisal Al-Shammeri was third.