Drivers Al-Attiyah, Alvarez go head-to-head for FIA World Cup glory in Saudi desert

Drivers Al-Attiyah, Alvarez go head-to-head for FIA World Cup glory in Saudi desert
Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah during a test-drive session ahead of the Hail Cross-Country Rally. Al-Attiyah leads the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies driver standings. (Supplied)
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Updated 08 December 2021

Drivers Al-Attiyah, Alvarez go head-to-head for FIA World Cup glory in Saudi desert

Drivers Al-Attiyah, Alvarez go head-to-head for FIA World Cup glory in Saudi desert
  • Saudi ace Yazeed Al-Rajhi eyes a top finish in bid to overhaul Alvarez and snatch second place

HAIL: Competitive action gets underway on Wednesday at the Hail Cross-Country Rally, the final round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.

Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Argentina’s Lucio Alvarez both drive V8-engined Toyota Hiluxes, built in conjunction with Toyota Gazoo Racing and Overdrive Racing, and they will go head-to-head to decide the outcome of the 2021 FIA World Cup Drivers’ Championship.

To win his first FIA World Cup title, Alvarez needs to overturn a 28-point deficit. The Argentine will need to win the rally outright and score at least three additional bonus points for daily stage performances and, even then, the outcome will depend on whether Al-Attiyah finishes lower than eighth overall and fails to secure a single bonus point.

Al-Attiyah said: “I won in Hail back in 2008 and 2011 and with Matthieu (Baumel), my current co-driver, we won the first of the Bajas last December. We will do our best to take the win again and seal the championship. We have a good car. The rally is also very useful experience for us before the Dakar Rally in January.”

It will be a big ask for Alvarez, but the battle has at least confirmed that Overdrive Toyotas should fill the top two places in the points’ standings unless Russia’s Denis Krotov can seal a top-four result and Alvarez fails to finish. Krotov drives an X-raid Mini and starts the rally four points adrift of local hero Yazeed Al-Rajhi. The Saudi knows that a top finish could also see him overhaul Alvarez and snatch second place in the series.

Hoping to upset the applecart and challenge for honors in their own right are the Orlen Team’s Jakub Przygonski and Argentina’s Sebastian Halpern in their X-raid Minis and Czech driver Miroslav Zapletal in a Ford F-150. Former Spanish enduro rider Laia Sanz also joins the German X-raid team to drive a Mini John Cooper Works Rally in readiness for the Dakar challenge that awaits.

With the FIA T3 and T4 championships already settled in favor of Spain’s Cristina Gutierrez and America’s Austin Jones, pride and pre-Dakar experience are at stake in both the hotly contested categories.

Eight teams line up in the T3 section, with Russian Pavel Lebedev leading the way in his Can-Am and facing competition from local favorite Saleh Al-Saif, fellow Saudis Mashael Al-Obaidan, Dania Akeel, Esra Aldkheil, and Hamed Al-Harbi, Germany’s Annett Fischer, and Uzbekistan’s Anvar Ergashev.

Al-Obaidan said: “This is a great opportunity for me to test for Dakar. This is my third race after Sharqiya and Aragon in Spain. It’s the first time that Jacopo (Cerutti), my co-driver, and I have participated together. I’ve been here a couple of times but never in an official race. There are three Saudi females, including myself. The sport is really booming here. I believe there is a really bright future in the Kingdom for everyone.”

Six crews will battle it out over the next four days for T4 honors. South Racing Middle East’s Thomas Bell tops the field and faces competition from Poland’s Marek and Michal Goczal, Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri, Australia’s Molly Taylor, and Ukraine’s Levgen Kovalevych.

There is also a National Rally running behind the main FIA rally, a separate event for motorcycles and quads, a truck category, and dispensation for several 2022 specification machines to compete with teams carrying out pre-Dakar testing.

Czech WRC star Martin Prokop wheels out the latest Ford Raptor Cross-Country, running under the Benzina Orlen Team banner, both Frenchman Ronan Chabot and Argentina’s Juan Cruz Yacopini try out Overdrive Racing’s latest Toyota Hilux T1+, and Sweden’s Sebastian Eriksson gets his hands on the latest T3-2022 South Racing Can-Am Maverick.

The Hail Cross-Country Rally is being organized by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation under the supervision of the Hail Regional Development Authority in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Sports.

On Wednesday, competitors will tackle the first of four selective sections through the Al-Nafud desert. The competitive stage starts 82.59 kilometers from Rally HQ, includes a passage control and refueling point after 173 km, and runs for 258.14 km. A liaison of 47.31 km guides competitors back to the bivouac.

FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies – driver standings:

1.Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT) 92.5 pts

2.Lucio Alvarez (ARG) 64.5 pts

3.Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU) 57 pts

4.Denis Krotov (RUS) 53 pts

5.Mattias Ekstrom (SWE) 27 pts

FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies – co-driver standings:

1. Matthieu Baumel (FRA) 92.5 pts

2. Armand Monleon (ESP) 64.5 pts

3. Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS) 53 pts

4. Michael Orr (GBR) 35.5 pts

5. Emil Bergkvist (SWE) 27 pts


UPDATE 1-Olympics-China says US plans to pay athletes to ‘sabotage’ Beijing Games

UPDATE 1-Olympics-China says US plans to pay athletes to ‘sabotage’ Beijing Games
Updated 27 sec ago

UPDATE 1-Olympics-China says US plans to pay athletes to ‘sabotage’ Beijing Games

UPDATE 1-Olympics-China says US plans to pay athletes to ‘sabotage’ Beijing Games
BEIJING: China’s foreign ministry and an official newspaper have accused the United States of planning to interfere with and “sabotage” the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Allegedly, they’d be paying athletes from some countries to make half-hearted efforts in competition and to criticize China.
The allegations were made a week before the Games start amid tensions between the two superpowers that has included a diplomatic boycott of the event by the United States, which has been joined by several other countries.
Asked about the Chinese allegations, the US Embassy in Beijing on Saturday reiterated a previous position that Washington was not coordinating a global campaign regarding participation at the Olympics.
China Daily, an English-language newspaper run by the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s Publicity Department, on Friday evening cited unnamed sources as saying United States has a plan to “incite athletes from various countries to express their discontent toward China, play passively in competition and even refuse to take part.”
In return, it said, Washington would provide a large amount of compensation and “mobilize global resources” to help protect the reputation of athletes of who choose to compete passively.
Asked if the Chinese foreign ministry believes the allegation to be valid, a ministry spokesperson told Reuters on Saturday that the report has “exposed the real intention of some Americans to politicize sports and to sabotage and interfere with the Beijing Winter Olympics.”
The spokesperson said he strongly condemned the attempts by some Americans to “buy off” athletes and “cause trouble” during the Games, adding that these attempts are “doomed to fail.”
A US Embassy spokesman told Reuters by email on Saturday, “We were not and are not coordinating a global campaign regarding participation at the Olympics.”
“US athletes are entitled to express themselves freely in line with the spirit and charter of the Olympics, which includes advancing human rights,” the spokesman said.
The United States announced in December a diplomatic boycott of the Games over what it called China’s human rights “atrocities,” a move that was followed by allies Australia, Britain and Canada but that does not prevent US athletes from traveling to Beijing to compete.
China rejects allegations of human rights abuse and has repeatedly lashed out against the politicization of the Games.
In a message to convey greetings for the Chinese New Year festival next week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told China-based foreign diplomats that China “has the confidence and ability to remove the interference” and turn the Winter Games into an event that promotes friendship and mutual understanding.

LIVE: Formula E Diriyah E-Prix day two

Rokit Venturi driver Lucas Di Grassi kicked out Andretti’s Dennis, the man who finished third in the race on Friday. (Supplied)
Rokit Venturi driver Lucas Di Grassi kicked out Andretti’s Dennis, the man who finished third in the race on Friday. (Supplied)
Updated 7 min 28 sec ago

LIVE: Formula E Diriyah E-Prix day two

Rokit Venturi driver Lucas Di Grassi kicked out Andretti’s Dennis, the man who finished third in the race on Friday. (Supplied)
  • Drivers take to the circuit for qualifying under the new knockout format for the second day

DIRIYAH: Drivers take to the circuit for qualifying under the new knockout format for the second day of the Diriyah E-Prix in the 8th season of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.

It was an action-packed first day as the drivers got to grips with the new format. Despite claiming yet another pole position, Stoffel Vandoorne had to settle for second place behind his teammate Nyck de Vries.

Follow all the coverage of day two below... (All times GMT)

13:15 - Sam Bird is out of qualifying after a crash in turn two. Friday’s pole position winner Vandoorne ran a slow qualifying time on day two which led to him getting kicked out of the top four by Mahindra Racing’s Alexander Sims, and effectively throwing the Belgian driver to the back of the grid.

Rokit Venturi Racing’s Edoardo Mortara, who crashed out on Friday, is first in Group B and advances to the quarterfinals along with Envision Racing’s Robin Frijns and both DS Tcheetah’s Antonio Felix da Costa, and Jean-Eric Vergne. No jaguars will head-to-head in the duels.

13:00 - Both Andrettis out in the first run, with third on the grid yesterday Lucas di Grassi joining in on the first qualifying. Nick Cassidy won’t be taking part in qualifying, while second on the grid yesterday Jake Dennis gets a front row start.

Oliver Askew was quickest in the first sector over all other drivers, but the chance to be in top four didn’t last for the rookie as he got pushed out by TAG Heuer Porsche driver Pascal Wehrlein.

Rokit Venturi driver Lucas Di Grassi kicked out Andretti’s Dennis, the man who finished third in the race on Friday, who is not going to go forward to the duel stage, while first place podium winner Nyck de Vries, Di Grassi, Mahindra Racing’s Oliver Rowland and TAG Heuer Porsche’s Andre Lotterer advance. 


Formula E and CBX raise $478,000 for Saudi charity

Formula E and CBX raise $478,000 for Saudi charity
Updated 11 min 3 sec ago

Formula E and CBX raise $478,000 for Saudi charity

Formula E and CBX raise $478,000 for Saudi charity
  • Money raised ahead of season eight opener, with round one of the double-header getting underway in Diriyah

RIYADH: Hosts and guests of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship and Saudi Arabia came together at the Diriyah E-Prix gala dinner on Thursday to raise funds for the Charitable Society of Autism Families.

The fund-raising event, organized by official promoter CBX, raised $478,000 for a cause that Formula E has supported since 2019.

The event, held at the Cultural Palace, kicked off Formula E’s season eight opener, with round one of the double-header getting underway in Diriyah.

“I can’t express my thanks enough to those that supported the gala dinner and SAF,” Prince Saud bin Abdul Aziz bin Farhan Al-Saud, SAF chairman, said.

“The Formula E family has gone above and beyond, and the funds will allow us to support all those involved in autism, from professionals who deliver care to the children and families navigating their way through the disorder. Our vision is to develop an integrated and well-developed platform for all autistic individuals in the Kingdom.”

Eight auction lots up for grabs included a Chelsea shirt signed by special guest Didier Drogba, who personally handed the garment over to the highest bidder who paid $92,500.

Other prizes included a Tag Heuer Carrera Heuer 02 Tourbillon, Extreme E Explorers Lounge passes for its Uruguay X Prix, a Roland Iten X Rebellion Belt Buckle, a Mouawad necklace, a VIP experience in AlUla, two paintings by Fahad Al-Naymah, plus a Salayel Arabian stud horse.

Carlo Boutagy, CBX founder, said: “I’m glad we raised significant funds for such a worthy cause. My thanks to all those who attended, donated auction items, and bid for incredible pieces and experiences.”

He added: “I would also like to express my gratitude to the Ministry of Sport, the Saudi Arabian Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, and Formula E for bringing this race to the Kingdom for a fourth consecutive year, and for also supporting our gala dinner. The money raised will make the world of difference to many families in Saudi Arabia.”

The bidding battle heated up with the highest price being offered for the Salayel Arabian stud horse, all contributing to $478,000 being raised, which will support the 5,000 families with autism spectrum disorder children across the Kingdom.

Alejandro Agag, founder and chairman of Formula E, added: “It is a pleasure to be in the Kingdom for the opening rounds of season eight of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship with the support of the host city and CBX. The Charitable Society of Autism Families is a worthy cause and last night we were able to support their important work. At Formula E we race to create better futures. We are committed to building shared values among our communities and driving change together.”

Meanwhile, Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation and chairman of the Saudi Motorsport Co., said: “The night truly reflected our mission to increase opportunities to expand the role of motorsport in terms of inclusion to reach all segments of the population in Saudi Arabia. We are committed through the Kingdom’s 2030 Vision and the support of our leaders to improve the lives of all our citizens and build a better future for our nation’s youth.”

SAF has a longstanding relationship with CBX and the Diriyah E-Prix having received a donation of $245,000 when the partnership with Formula E was conceived. The aid was channelled into projects to train families, enrol autistic children in sports programs and support the rehabilitation of individuals with autism.

Since its inception in 2009, the charity has invested more than $16.7 million in projects to fulfil its mission to improve autism care and research in Saudi Arabia by supporting and coordinating stakeholders through a research-based approach and emphasis on collaboration.


Endurance ace Carmine Villani a high achiever in and out of the saddle

Endurance ace Carmine Villani a high achiever in and out of the saddle
Updated 29 January 2022

Endurance ace Carmine Villani a high achiever in and out of the saddle

Endurance ace Carmine Villani a high achiever in and out of the saddle
  • World No.1 will represent Great Britain at the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup 2022 at AlUla

Endurance horse racing champion Carmine Villani has led a rich and colorful life that has seen him shine in business and sport.

Today, the world No.1 will represent Great Britain at the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup 2022 (Fursan Cup) at AlUla.

Villani was a talented athlete as a young man — first in Italy and then the US — excelling as a middle-distance runner. After graduating from the University of Texas in Austin, he went on to become heavily involved in sports car racing.

However, an affinity with horses has always been in his blood. When he was young, Villani was taught to ride by his grandfather. In Carmine’s words, he “learned the tricks and bareback riding from him.”

Villani’s equine passion was rekindled during his time in Texas, where he rode quarter-horses and thoroughbreds.

He began to take part in endurance events in his early 40s and climbed to the summit of the FEI World Rankings in 2020.

There are plenty of reasons the sport has him hooked.

“It teaches discipline, morals and patience, and it takes a mental effort and sacrifice,” said Villani, who is now based in England and represents Endurance GB.

“To participate in an endurance race is an achievement itself. It could be very technical. Strategy is also a very important aspect to know how to win. It is a beautiful sport.”

He added: “Endurance is a mental and physical state. Like military — sacrifice and commitment. You should never give up. You need to be fit and have a fit horse. It is a very good way to maintain your health also.”

Villani, who is also a certified public accountant and public notary, said that a strong understanding and bond between human and horse is essential for success.

Competition tests stamina, skill and intellect, so it is imperative for him that there is an empathy at the heart of the alliance. Judgment of pace and the underlying track, as well as the horse’s moment-by-moment condition, are all integral in the pursuit of success in the sport.

“You have to be the brain of the horse,” said Villani.


Making Miracles qualifies for Saudi Cup after Custodian Cup win at King Abdul Aziz Racecourse

Making Miracles qualifies for Saudi Cup after Custodian Cup win at King Abdul Aziz Racecourse
Updated 29 January 2022

Making Miracles qualifies for Saudi Cup after Custodian Cup win at King Abdul Aziz Racecourse

Making Miracles qualifies for Saudi Cup after Custodian Cup win at King Abdul Aziz Racecourse
  • Six hopefuls gain automatic entry to the world’s most valuable race meeting on Feb. 25-26

Making Miracles, the 2019 Chester Cup winner, will join the likes of Mishriff and Sealiway in the $20 million Saudi Cup after storming to victory under Alexis Moreno in the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup (domestic Group 1) at King Abdul Aziz Racecourse on Thursday, the first of two days of qualifying races at the Riyadh venue.

The seven-year-old, formerly with Mark Johnston, scored his fifth win from eight starts in Saudi Arabia and will now gain an automatic spot in the world’s most valuable horse race.

Four further qualifying events took place at King Abdul Aziz Racecourse, with Portuguese rider Ricardo Sousa Ferreira landing three of the events: The 1351 Turf Sprint Qualifier on Cold Front, Jahez Neom Turf Cup Qualifier aboard Flying Visit and the Riyadh Dirt Sprint Qualifier sponsored by Saudia, with Rock Sound.

The day’s other contest guaranteeing a spot on the Saudi Cup race day was the Al Rajhi Bank Saudi Derby Qualifier, won by Almuthanna, partnered by veteran rider Wiggy Ramos.

There was also a qualifying spot available for the $2 million Obaiya Arabian Classic (Arabian Group 2) on Thursday for the winner of the Lexus Diriyah Cup, which was claimed by Prince Amer.

The only remaining automatic entry races come at Gulfstream on Saturday, where the winner of the Pegasus World Cup Turf will gain entry to the Group 3 Neom Turf Cup and the Pegasus World Cup (Dirt) will get a spot in the Saudi Cup.

Aside from the qualifying races, there was one other domestic Group 1 on Thursday’s card, which saw Silvestre de Sousa ride Almobeer to victory. The Brazilian had inherited the ride from Frankie Dettori, after the 51-year-old was forced to change his arrangements following a positive COVID-19 test.