Al-Rajhi claims second successive saudi arabian Ha’il Baja victory
Saudi Arabian driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and French navigator Matthieu Baumel claimed a superb second successive victory in the Saudi Arabian Ha'il Baja, after comfortably setting the fastest time on the 187.7km third selective section through the An-Nafud desert in the north-central region of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Thursday.
The Mitsubishi Lancer crew began the day with a 6m 34s advantage over Abdullah Bakhashab and Joseph Matar and managed to stay ahead of the Toyota FJ Cruiser Proto crew over the third day's challenging desert route to the south and west of Ha'il to record a winning margin of 32m 54.3s when Bakhashab suffered clutch problems near the end.
The victory gave Al-Rajhi an unofficial four-point lead after round one of the 2010 FIA Cup for Cross-Country Bajas, which resumes with the Northern Forest Rally, near Saint Petersburg in Russia, in less than two weeks' time. Baumel also confirmed his hat-trick of Saudi Ha'il Baja successes, after guiding Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah to victory in 2008 with the BMW X-raid team and Al-Rajhi with an Overdrive Nissan Pick-Up last year.
"The car was fantastic, Matthieu did a great job on the route and I am so happy to have made a winning start to my programme in the Baja Cup," said Al-Rajhi. "Winning at home in Saudi Arabia makes it extra special for me. The goal was to win again this year and I have fulfilled the target."
The UAE's Raed Baker and Nabil Ahmadi set the second fastest time of the day and managed to fend off a strong Saudi challenge over the closing kilometres to confirm the final podium place in their Mitsubishi L200. Mtair and Motaib Al-Shammeri finished fourth overall in their Toyota Land Cruiser and Farhan Al-Galeb and Tariq Ramah rounded off the top five in a Nissan.
Sami and Abdullah Al-Shammeri claimed victory in the T2 showroom category with their Bakhashab Isuzu Team D-Max, the Saudi duo benefiting from delays for UAE's Yayha Al-Helai and the fact that Abdullah Al-Herais failed to restart on Thursday morning.
This year's Saudi Arabian Ha'il Baja ran under the patronage of HRH Prince Saud Bin Abdul Mohsen Bin Abdul Aziz, Governor of Ha'il, President of the Supreme Commission for Ha'il Development and the Head of the Supreme Commission of the Ha'il Rally.
Twenty-five of the original 27 cars entered in the international event were permitted to restart stage three on Thursday morning, with Majed Al-Ghamdi succumbing to engine problems and Safah Al-Saeedi also falling by the wayside. Emirati Abdullah Al-Herais did not take the restart. Cars that did not complete the full second stage were given a notional time penalty of 10h 15m.
It was business as usual at the head of the field through the opening kilometres over a compacted surface out of Qana, with Al-Rajhi heading Bakhashab. Mtair Al-Shammery began an early charge and managed to pass Baker and Qatar's Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani to take a virtual third position on the 187.7km stage, where sand became more prevalent on fast, winding tracks to the second safety point.
Al-Rajhi was the first to reach the Tawiya checkpoint and was followed by Bakhashab and Al-Shammeri, but Al-Thani was forced to stop around five kilometres after the start with mechanical problems, as Al-Shammeri inherited fourth overall and Al-Herais moved up to fifth. Saudi's Abdullah Al-Dossary and Saleh Al-Saleh were also delayed and managed to continue.
Al-Rajhi maintained his advantage over Bakhashab to the Baaja checkpoint and Sami Al-Shammeri became embroiled in a close tussle with Al-Herais for the advantage in the T2 category. Thereafter, crews had to pass tricky rocky sections and several rough wadis to arrive at a giant dune with a steep uphill climb.
The outright leader continued to pull away from a clutch-troubled Bakhashab as the route turned south towards Mohaffar, while Baker managed to get passed the Al-Shammeri duo to regain third on the stage. The closing kilometres began on fast, graded tracks and gave way to sandier surfaces and several undulating passages through a series of sand dunes before a downhill section brought teams to the finish.
But there were no late dramas for Al-Rajhi, who managed to confirm his second successive victory in his home Baja event in convincing style. Bakhashab limped to the finish with ongoing clutch problems to claim second position, but there was late misery for Sami Al-Shammeri, who lost a top five overall position with late mechanical issues but had the consolation of victory in T2.
The UAE's Yayha Al-Helai also ground to a halt in his Nissan Patrol after the Mohaffar checkpoint. He lost considerable time and slipped to seventh overall and second in T2. Britain's David Mabbs recovered from radiator woes on Wednesday to record the third fastest time on the final stage, but time penalties dropped him out of the top 10 in the overall classification.