HAIL: Saudi Arabia’s top rally driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi has become a seven-time Hail International Rally winner, clinching his latest title on Saturday by a margin of just 38 seconds in his Toyota Hilux.
An outstanding performance saw Al-Rajhi and his co-driver Timo Gottschalk win the fifth Saudi Baja, now known as the Hail Toyota International Rally.
Leading overnight Al-Rajhi, in his Toyota Hilux Overdrive T1+, unexpectedly lost more than five minutes on Saturday. Fortunately for him he had enough of a gap from Friday to remain in first position.
“I am very happy. It’s a very enjoyable rally and my seventh win,” he said. “It’s always nice to win here. I never expected that I would become a Baja or a cross-country specialist but my first win here opened my eyes to this kind of racing. I enjoy it a lot. Now I am going from the dunes to the Alps for some skiing … and then I will return to racing for the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.”
The Portuguese Joao Ferreira (Mini JCW Rally Plus) had a great finish, winning the special stage on Saturday and moving up to second position in the overall standings, only to lose by the narrow margin of 38 seconds to the winner.
“It was a very enjoyable race,” Ferreira said. “I am not a specialist on dunes and in sand. The competition was very good and I gained a lot of experience from being here.”
The X-Raid Team made some changes to the Mini’s set-up overnight and revised suspension settings enabled the Portuguese to push a lot harder on the last stage.
Argentina’s Juan Cruz Yacopini and his Spanish co-driver Daniel Oliveras were second fastest on Saturday morning and came home in fourth overall on the opening round of the FIA World and Middle East Baja Cups hosted by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation.
Multiple former T3 winner Saleh Al-Saif has only been beaten once in this event since 2020 and the Saudi overcame an early scare and stormed to victory in the Challenger category in his G Rally Team OT3. Partnered by Qatar’s Nasser Al-Kuwari, he finished fifth overall and 11min 41sec clear of his nearest rival Joao Dias in the Santag Racing Can-Am Maverick. Al-Saif was also the top finisher in the FIA Middle East Baja Cup, while Dias topped the FIA World Baja Cup standings.
Dubai-based Alliyah Koloc teamed up with Frenchman Sebastien Delaunay and guided her Red-lined Revo+ to seventh overall and second place among the contenders registered for the FIA Middle East Baja Cup.
The fifth quickest time on the final stage enabled Dania Akeel to displace her former Can-Am team-mate Fernando Alvarez and snatch eighth on her first appearance in an Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux. The Saudi was third of the FIA Middle East Cup contenders and collected valuable points for the Saudi Toyota Rally Championship.
Alvarez and his co-driver Xavier Panseri secured ninth in their South Racing Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR and topped the SSV category. Spaniard Alexander Toril Boquoi finished second and Qatar’s Ahmed Al-Kuwari was third and first of the FIA Middle East Baja Cup contenders. Front drive shaft woes on the opening stage ruined Amerigo Ventura’s chances in his Yamaha.
Fuel pump issues on day one ruined Eduardo Pons’s chance of pushing for Challenger honors in his Taurus T3 Max.
Local driver Majed Al-Thunayyan guided his Nissan Patrol to a useful finish and FIA Middle East Baja Cup points in the Stock category for series production cross-country vehicles.
Mohammed Al-Balooshi rode cautiously to set the fourth quickest time on the last morning but did enough to seal a fourth victory in Hail since 2020 on the opening round of the FIM Bajas World Cup. The MX Ride Dubai man finished the stage 4 min. 34 sec. behind Saudi Abdulhalim Al-Mogheera but won the event by 2 min. 12 sec. on his KTM from his Kuwaiti team-mate Abdullah Al-Shatti. The stage win ensured that Al-Mogheera finished third ahead of Emirati Hamdan Al-Ali.
Al-Balooshi said: “I am very happy to win this rally for the fourth time. I have a perfect record here in Saudi. I have never lost here. Today was very tricky. It was an easy stage but so simple to make a stupid mistake. Our strategy was to bring the bike to the finish line and secure the win. With that we lead the world rankings. I am also proud that the top three are GCC riders, me from the Emirates, Abdullah from Kuwait and Abdulhalim from Saudi Arabia. I am proud to have an all-Arab podium.”
Jordanian Abdullah Abu Aisheh lost vital minutes on the last stage and slipped to sixth place after he received a 15-minute penalty for a route violation. That gifted fifth place to Spaniard Pedro Bianchi Prata after he had overhauled German open-class rider Philip Horlemann. Bahrain’s Salman Farhan came home in eighth and Qatar-based Australian Martin Chalmers and fellow countryman Andrew Houlihan rounded off the top 10.
Haitham Al-Tuwaijri cruised to his third successive victory in the quad category in Hail. The Yamaha Raptor 700 rider finished 1hr 05 min. 15 sec. ahead of Hani Al-Noumesi in his successful quest for FIM Bajas World Cup points. Abdulaziz Al-Shayban finished third.
Abdulaziz Al-Yaeesh (Nissan) won the Saudi National Baja and picked up vital points toward the four-round Saudi Toyota Rally Championship on a stage where runner-up Faris Al-Moshana (Nissan) set the fastest time.