|Ha´il Saudi Baja: Al-Rajhi and Baumel lead Saudi Arabian Ha´il Baja.|
Saudi Arabian driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and French navigator Matthieu Baumel edged into a slender 1.3-second outright lead in the 2010 Saudi Arabian Ha’il Baja, after the opening 6.2km super special stage at Maghwat on the outskirts of Ha’il on Tuesday afternoon.
The gravel stage kick-started a new season of action in the FIA International Cup for Cross-Country Bajas and a sizeable crowd watched 1995 FIA Middle East rally champion Abdullah Bakhashab and Lebanese co-driver Joseph Matar record the second fastest time of 4m 57.6s in their Toyota FJ Cruiser Proto.
This was the competitive debut of Bakhashab’s new Latvian-built Toyota FJ Cruiser Proto, which is based on the chassis of the popular Latvian Dakar-type Buggy, is powered by a 4.3-litre Lexus engine and uses a Sadev sequential transmission set-up.
The UAE’s Raed Baker and Nabil Ahmadi completed the tricky Maghwat test in third overall in a Mitsubishi L200. Qatar’s Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani - regional rally champion in 1993 - held fourth place and Emirati Yayha Al-Helai rounded off the top five.
Dubai-based David Mabbs finished seventh in his Toyota FJ Cruiser. "I thought our Toyota was quite advanced and well modified until I had a closer look at Abdullah’s FJ Proto," said Mabbs. "The cars really are night and day in terms of development and the running gear is completely different."
Cars were flagged away from the start at the Maghwat conference centre in the presence of event patron, 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 and HRH Prince Abdullah bin Khaled bin Abdullah Al-Saud, the deputy of the Supreme Commission for Ha’il Development
The event is being organised by the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation (SAMF) and has been split into two sections to enable eight local drivers to participate, after their cars were deemed not eligible for the international event on technical grounds. Twenty-seven cars duly lined up at the start line of the Ha’il Baja, with the eight local drivers running behind the main event in a national rally, led by Ahmed Al-Shagawi and Nooh Bu Humaid in a Nissan Patrol.
Former event winner Rajeh Al-Shammeri was also entered in the national category with his trusty Toyota Land Cruiser. A close family bereavement in the UK forced Dubai-based Mark Powell to withdraw his Honda Buggy from the main event.
Mishaal Al-Sudairy, president of the SAMF and chairman of the organising committee, was joined by race director Dr. Saleh Al-Solei and Saudi’s leading rally driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi in a two-hour visit to the Prince Salman Centre for Handicapped Children in Ha’il before the ceremonial start on Tuesday.
"This is a way for the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation to raise the awareness of the sport within the local area and give something back to the community," said Al-Sudairy. "Several of the children were very knowledgeable about the sport and had seen it on television. The visit was also an opportunity to explain about the sport to the other children."
Wednesday will mark the first of the two traditional days of selective sections through the An-Nafud desert. A 60.90km liaison will guide entrants from Ha’il to the start of the competitive action at Jubbah and a 304.5km special will follow, offering a balance of fast gravel tracks, dunes and sandy sections. The first car will start the stage at 8am and is expected to reach the finish in the early afternoon before returning to Maghwat for service at the end of the day.
Positions after SS1 (6.2km):
01) Al-Rajhi (KSA)/Baumel (F) I Mitsubishi Lancer I 00:04:56.3
02) Bakhashab (KSA)/Matar (RL) I Toyota FJ Cruiser Proto I 00:04:57
03) Baker (UAE)/Almadi (UAE) I Mitsubishi L200 I 00:05:18
04) Al-Thani (QA)/Mohammed (UAE) I Nissan Patrol I 00:05:26
05) Al-Helai (UAE)/Al-Kendi (UAE) I Nissan Patrol (T2) I 00:05:27
06) Al-Herais (UAE)/Bin Zayed (UAE) I Nissan Patrol (T2) I 00:05:28
07) Mabbs (GB)/Caminada (F) I Toyota FJ Cruiser I 00:05:29
08) Al-Ghamdi (KSA)/Arena (I) I Isuzu D-Max (T2) I 00:05:32
09) Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Al-Shammeri (KSA) I Toyota Land Cruiser I 00:05:38
10) Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Al-Shammeri (KSA) I Isuzu D-Max (T2) I 00:05:39
2010/02/18 | 23:50 CET | Editor: MR/HS/PERKINS