|Ha´il Saudi Baja: Al-Rajhi and Baumel extend overall lead after Stage 2.|
Saudi Arabian driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and French navigator Matthieu Baumel extended their overall lead in the Saudi Arabian Ha’il Baja to 6m 34.3s after the second 304.5km selective section through the remote An-Nafud desert in the north-central region of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.
"It was a superb and really enjoyable stage," said Al-Rajhi. "But we had a puncture and lost some time changing the wheel. Still, we are in a good position for the final stage."
The Mitsubishi Lancer crew were pushed hard through the opening kilometres of the demanding selective section by an in-form Abdullah Bakhashab and his Lebanese co-driver Joseph Matar, but the Toyota crew fell back over the later faster kilometres but maintained a comfortable second overall.
"I had a good strategy for the first part of the stage and it was going very well," said Bakhashab. "But we lost a lot of time over the faster terrain in the second part and that was disappointing."
The UAE’s Raed Baker and Nabil Ahmadi finished the section in a solid third overall in their Mitsubishi L200 to maintain the final podium position. Qatar’s Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani and his Dubai-based co-driver Yousef Mohammed were fourth. The Emirati duo of Abdullah Al-Herais and Yayha Al-Helai held sixth and eighth in a pair of T2 Nissan Patrols and were sandwiched between fifth-placed Saudi driver Mtair Al-Shammeri and local rival Sami Al-Shammeri in seventh.
Eight cars were entered in the Ha’il National Rally that was running behind the international field. Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al-Nashmi (Nissan) and Ahmed Al-Shagawi (Nissan) were the pacesetters to the refuelling point on Wednesday afternoon.
Al-Helai was awarded a one-minute penalty for jumping the start of the super special stage on Tuesday afternoon and slipped to 25th overall at the restart on Wednesday morning. But one minute was of little consequence once the cars entered the daunting An-Nafud desert and the Emirati was moved up the restart order on safety grounds in any case.
Rally officials warned competitors that the opening kilometres would be very difficult, the route offering narrow and twisty undulating tracks between sand dunes. The dunes then gave way to a series of graded tracks with smooth surfaces to the second checkpoint, where the route headed through a series of stunning dunes.
Predictably, Al-Rajhi and Bakhashab began a fascinating duel for the outright lead, with Al-Thani and Baker giving chase, closely followed by Al-Herais and Al-Helai. Saudi’s Majid Al-Ghamdi was forced to stop his Isuzu D-Max with engine-related problems 30km after the start, reported radiator woes cost David Mabbs considerable time five kilometres from the first safety point at Ghazala and Saleh Al-Saleh was also in the wars. Ian Barker also stopped with technical trouble, as the leaders headed deep into the An-Nafud in bright sunshine and a warming sun.
Bakhashab had carried out a rigorous three-month fitness campaign to get in physical trim for his one-off Ha’il outing and acclimatised to being back in the competitive hot seat with aplomb. He was running ahead of Al-Rajhi as the leading duo reached the second safety point at Radifa.
But the Mitsubishi Lancer driver sneaked in front by the third safety point at Surah, as Baker, Al-Thani, Al-Herais and Al-Helai trailed in their wake. The defending champion continued to pull away from his Toyota rival, but the 1995 regional rally champion closed the gap en route to the refuelling checkpoint at the Al-Ulaim mountain after 200km and moved just in front as the pair neared the refuelling point.
But the game of cat and mouse intensified and Al-Rajhi again hit the front before the Al-Ulaim mountain, only for Bakhashab again to force his way into the virtual stage lead. The pair continued to edge away from the remainder of the field, although Baker and Al-Thani remained the closest challengers and Al-Herais and Al-Helai stayed in touch on the run in a south-easterly direction towards the fifth checkpoint at Al-Ghudhat.
Al-Rajhi began to pull away from Bakhashab as the duo neared Al-Ghudhat, the Saudi benefiting from the higher top speed of his Mitsubishi Lancer over the faster and more defined tracks. The Saudi punctured and had trouble changing the wheel, but still managed to maintain his first position on the road and extend his overall advantage.
This year’s Saudi Arabian Ha’il Baja is running 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.
Positions on SS2 (304.5km)
01) Al-Rajhi (KSA)/Baumel (F) I Mitsubishi Lancer I 04:36:10
02) Bakhashab (KSA)/Matar (RL) I Toyota FJ Cruiser Proto I 04:42:43
03) Baker (UAE)/Almadi (UAE) I Mitsubishi L200 I 05:03:22
04) Bin Eid Al-Thani (QA)/Mohammed (UAE) I Nissan Patrol I 05:16:33
05) Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Al-Shammeri (KSA) I Toyota Land Cruiser I 05:21:21
06) Al-Herais (UAE)/Bin Zayed (UAE) I Nissan Patrol (T2) I 05:24:52
07) Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Al-Shammeri (KSA) I Isuzu D-Max (T2) I 05:27:31
08) Al-Helai (UAE)/Al-Kendi (UAE) I Nissan Patrol (T2) I 05:30:06
Overall positions after SS2
01) Al-Rajhi (KSA)/Baumel (F) I Mitsubishi Lancer I 04:41:06
02) Bakhashab (KSA)/Matar (RL) I Toyota FJ Cruiser Proto I 04:47:40
03) Baker (UAE)/Almadi (UAE) I Mitsubishi L200 I 05:08:40
04) Bin Eid Al-Thani (QA)/Mohammed (UAE) I Nissan Patrol I 05:21:59
05) Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Al-Shammeri (KSA) I Toyota Land Cruiser I 05:27:19
06) Al-Herais (UAE)/Bin Zayed (UAE) I Nissan Patrol (T2) I 05:30:20
07) Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Al-Shammeri (KSA) I Isuzu D-Max (T2) I 05:33:10
08) Al-Helai (UAE)/Al-Kendi (UAE) I Nissan Patrol (T2) I 05:36:33
2010/02/19 | 00:52 CET | Editor: MR/HS/PERKINS