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Baja GB 2007: Miroslav Zapletal takes shock Baja GB Victory

The Czech crew of Miroslav Zapletal and Miroslav Janacek clinched a shock victory in Baja GB 2007, round three of the FIA International Cup for Cross-Country Bajas, in Builth Wells, mid-Wales, on Sunday. The Mitsubishi Pajero crew hit the front for the first time after the sixth stage, when defending Baja champion Marc Blazquez stopped with mechanical problems. The Czech came under pressure from FIA Baja Cup leader Boris Gadasin over the closing stages, but held on to take a memorable win in the rain-soaked mid-Wales forests. The result means that runner-up Gadasin is now the favourite to clinch a maiden Baja title in Portugal in October at the wheel of his Overdrive Nissan Navara.

"It was a nice event, but the stages were so very different to what we are used to in mainland Europe and they were very slippery," said Zapletal. Spaniard Blazquez began the sixth stage on Sunday morning with a 2m 32s outright lead over Zapletal, as the Nissan man continued his push towards a third Baja title in as many years. But the Spaniard's championship dream met an untimely end in the damp Hafren forests, when he stopped with reported transmission trouble and handed the overall lead to Zapletal.

Gadasin duly beat his Czech rival by 14 seconds in the stage, but the Mitsubishi driver maintained a 5m 26s lead over the Russian heading into the final two stages. Slovakia's Josef Sykora, who had spent around 30 minutes in a ditch on Saturday following a navigational error, set the third fastest time in SS6, but eventually stopped with a broken halfshaft in the subsequent Tarenig stage.

The battle for T2 honours had swung in favour of Spaniard Francesco Termens. He trailed Qatar's Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani at the end of the second day, but scorched into third overall and a commanding T2 lead through the sixth stage, where both Italy's Franco Grigoletto and Spaniard Jose-Manual Garcia hit mechanical trouble.

The pendulum swung back into Al-Thani's court in stage seven through Tarenig, when Termens stopped for around 10 minutes with mechanical problems. Gadasin set the fastest time but the Russian could only take 1m 37s out of Zapletal's advantage and the Czech headed into the final Sweet Lamb stage with a 3m 49s lead. Al-Thani moved up to third overall, as Termens slipped behind Dutchman Toni Van Deijne into fifth place.

Those final kilometres through the damp and rutted mid-Wales forests confirmed that Zapletal became the first ever winner of an FIA Baja event in the UK. Gadasin consolidated second overall with the fastest time on the final stage to reduce the Czech's winning margin to 2m 54s, while Qatar's Al-Thani confirmed the T2 title with a superb third place.

"This is a fantastic result for me," said Al-Thani. "It has been a really enjoyable event. My team have done a great job. Now I can go to Portugal, maybe in a T1 car, and try and take a top overall result. But that will not be easy against the competition there."

Van Deijne and Termens completed the top five, Cheptow's Richard Hopkins finished sixth in his Land Rover Discovery and Richard Hayward, from Newport in Gwent, was a distant ninth. Last year's winner Ian Rochelle, from Bridgnorth, had been the first retirement on Friday evening with a broken propshaft.

Llandrindod Wells-based Graham Middleton was the sensation of the opening two days in his Rally Raid F350 and was hoping to head into the final leg 40 seconds behind leader Blazquez. But FIA technical officials carried out a weight check on several cars in Builth Wells on Saturday evening and Middleton's new car was deemed to be substantially underweight. There was no alternative but to exclude the former British national champion from the event.

Dan Lofthouse took a commanding lead into the final day of Y Rali Bryn Cymru and extended his advantage to 30m 03s by winning the sixth stage. He confirmed the win through the final Tarenig stage, as Frazer Williams and Middleton Stoney's Henry Webster completed the podium places.

Llanidloes rider Rowan Jones headed into the final three stages with a commanding 7m 45s advantage over Cannock's Derrick Edmondson in the motorcycle category, with Craig Bounds in third and Daniel Upton a class of his own in the quad field in fourth place. Burntwood's defending champion Lee Edmondson, Bournemouth's Ray Watton, Neath's Nick Plumb, Castletown's Kieran Clotworthy and Ashley Wood had retired on Saturday.

Jones extended his lead to 8m 09s through the penultimate 60.31 km Sweet Lamb stage, as Derrick Edmondson held on to second overall and Bounds clung to third. The Welshman duly confirmed victory in Tarenig, although Edmondson set his first fastest time to reduce the Llanidloes rider's winning margin to 7m 56s.

"I know the area very well, but not the Baja course," said a delighted Jones. "This is my first event of this kind so far. Normally I compete in the British Enduro Championship, so I have never done one of these and did not know what to expect. I will be back next year. It was really enjoyable. Maybe next year it will be a bit more technical, but with the cars here as well, I suppose the organisers must find a happy medium."

Bounds filled the final podium place and Upton was a fine fourth on the leading quad. Seventeen-year-old Yorkshire rookie Naomi Ridley finished her first Baja in 16th position on a Yamaha Raptor.

2007/08/20 | 13:34 CET | Editor: MR/HS/Neil Perkins

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