TABUK, Saudi Arabia: Yazeed Al-Rajhi teamed up with German co-driver Timo Gottschalk to get the defense of his Saudi Toyota Rally Championship title underway with a comfortable victory at the new Tabuk-NEOM Rally in northern Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
The Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux driver began the second 136 km desert selective section with a lead of 19 minutes, 28 seconds, and was able to extend that to a winning margin of 34 minutes, 43 seconds. After missing the opening round following an injury sustained in a skiing accident, the result enabled the Saudi to close in on his local title rivals before the final two rounds of the series in Al-Qassim and Jeddah later in the year.
Al-Rajhi said: “Everything is going well. It was a nice race — very technical with good navigation. Sure, we are happy we came to this race in this area that we came to on Dakar and it is now in the Saudi Championship. We lead every stage. Now I look ahead to bajas in Italy and Spain.”
Emirati KTM rider Mohammed Al-Balooshi romped away from his brother Sultan and leading Saudi rider Mishal Al-Ghuneim to win the motorcycle category by 30 minutes, 11 seconds, on his KTM 450.
The three had ridden together over the closing kilometers on Friday but Mohammed led from the front through a tricky closing stage and chose his tracks wisely to seal a comfortable win.
With Al-Ghuneim slipping down to an eventual fourth place on his Beta 430RR after overcoming a very heavy crash, Kiwi rider Philip Wilson finished second on the day and climbed into third, securing the final podium place. Sultan Al-Balooshi stayed with Al-Ghuneim after his accident and sportingly rode with the Saudi to the stage finish. Abdulhaleem Al-Mogheera rounded off the top five.
Mohammed Al-Balooshi said: “It was an awesome day for me. It was attack from the very beginning. Our aim was to push while navigating. Winning is just icing on the cake. I am really happy.”
Al-Ghuneim added: “It started off really good. I caught up to Sultan in the first 20 km, rose really well and then, at 40 km, I was crossing a wadi and I think I was on the wrong track and I realized I needed to correct. While I was correcting on a flat track, my eyes went off the road book for a few seconds and I hit a massive rock at maybe 120 km per hour.
“I was launched into the air and cartwheeled and I thought it was game over. I stayed there to gain my sense of orientation and it took me about 15 or 20 minutes to decide whether I needed to be evacuated or not. I realized I could get up and I could finish the rally. The bike was damaged with the road book and I worked as a team with Sultan and we rode together to the finish of the stage.”
Saleh Al-Saif managed to squeeze past Danial Akeel on the final morning to snatch second place and victory in the T3 category for lightweight prototype cross-country vehicles in his Can-Am Maverick X3.
Akeel finished second in T3, but missed out on third overall in the general classification after falling behind Khalid Al-Feraihi on the final sprint to the finish.
“I had a great time; it was really fun,” added Akeel. “I was a bit disappointed when I saw that we had lost second place overall but I still enjoyed the drive. We learned a lot and, honestly, it was very enjoyable. For T3, it was a good performance but it is nice to compete for the overall. It’s so difficult to compete with the T1s when it is flat and fast. We don’t usually look at the T1s as competition to be honest. It was a nice surprise on day one and we had a good drive on the final stage.”
The event was organized by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation in conjunction with the Ministry of Sport, and in partnership with official sponsor Abdul Latif Jameel Motors and strategic sponsor Saudi Investment Bank.