PORDENONE: Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi and co-driver Michael Orr won each of the four competitive sections of Italian Baja 2022 to secure a comfortable victory in the third round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas.
The Argentinean duo of Juan Cruz Yacopini and Matias Acosta finished 18th overall in a second Toyota Hilux after rolling and losing just under 40 minutes on the final stage. Yacopini had been running in the top three earlier in the rally.
Al-Rajhi was able to err on the side of caution to conserve his Toyota on the demanding selective sections held across the flood plains, rocky river beds and forest areas of north-eastern Italy and the Saudi reached the finish five minutes and 6.7 seconds ahead of his closest Portuguese rival João Ferreira. The success marked his third career win at the event after topping the podium with Timo Gottschalk in 2014 and taking victory with Orr last year.
The Saudi said: “We are very happy to win here again. We opened the road and had a good lead overnight and we just had another safe drive on the last stage and will take maximum points for the championship and that’s the main thing.”
Al-Rajhi’s Irish colleague Orr added: “The car has been fantastic. The guys brought us a brand new car here and we had zero problems. Thanks to Overdrive and all the mechanics and engineers for doing such a good job.”
A Qualifying Stage of 14.30 km kick-started the action between San Martino al Tagliamento and Valvasone late on Friday afternoon. Al-Rajhi laid down the gauntlet from the outset, clocking the fastest time of 10 minutes and 7.1 seconds to take a lead of 20.8 seconds over Lithuania’s Benediktas Vanagas into the night halt. Yacopini carded the third-quickest time and was 31.6 seconds adrift of his team-mate.
Two passes through a revised selective section of 112.48 km between Zoppola and Dignano made up the itinerary for Saturday. Al-Rajhi was again the class of the field and claimed the stage win by one minute and 45.1 seconds from Portugal’s João Ferreira to extend his lead to two minutes and 17 seconds. Yacopini again came home with the third-quickest time to retain a similar position in the rankings.
“It was a good drive with no mistakes,” Orr added. “We didn’t attack a lot. There was no need to. The car was working good. Now we have a good feeling for the repeat of the stage in the afternoon.”
Al-Rajhi managed to beat Ferreira by one minute and 29 seconds on the second pass through the Zoppola stage and reached the night halt with a lead of three minutes and 46 seconds. Yacopini was classified in fifth on the stage and dropped down to sixth in the general classification.
A fourth stage success on the final 115.09 km section enabled Al-Rajhi to confirm the win but Yacopini came home in 22nd to finish 18th overall after time delays following his accident.
Overdrive Racing now heads to the punishing heat of central Spain for the next round of the series in two weeks.