|Ha´il Saudi Baja: Nasser Al Attiyah starts strong - Yazeed Al-Rajhi withdraws.|
Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah starts as the firm favourite to win this week’s Saudi Arabia Ha’il Desert Challenge following the decision by local driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi to withdraw his entry within days of the start of the three-day FIA-sanctioned event, which takes place in the north-central region of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, starting tomorrow (Tuesday).
Al-Rajhi had been scheduled to drive an Overdrive-prepared Nissan Navara in Saudi’s premier off-road event and attempt to win the race for the third time in as many years, but opted to cancel his entry in ‘respect for the Saudi people who had suffered in the floods in Jeddah’ in recent weeks. The Saudi driver also decided to donate the value of the cash prize for first overall to a charity set up to help those affected in the deluge.
This also tied in with a decision by His Royal Highness Prince Saud bin Abdul Mohsen bin Abdul Aziz, Prince of the Ha’il region and chairman of the high commission for the development of Hail and chairman of the organising committee, to cancel an opening ceremony, scheduled for Wednesday evening.
The event is being organised by the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation (SAMF) under the patronage of HRH Prince Saud Bin Abdul Mohsen Bin Abdul Aziz and the Presidency of His Royal Highness Prince Sultan Bin Bandar Al-Faisal
The SAMF have attracted a strong entry nonetheless, although Saudi drivers dominate a field that also includes entrants from the UK, the UAE, Germany, Lebanon, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and France.
Al-Attiyah is the overwhelming favourite alongside German co-driver Timo Gottschalk in the factory Volkswagen Race Touareg in which the pair
triumphed in last month’s Dakar Rally. The Qatari claimed victory in the Ha’il event in 2008 at the wheel of an X-raid BMW X3 CC and will be hoping
to clinch his third victory of 2011, having won the Dakar with Volkswagen and last weekend’s Qatar International Rally in a Ford Fiesta S2000.
Mfadi Al-Shammeri heads the Saudi challenge in the absence of Al-Rajhi at the wheel of his Toyota Team Saudi Arabia FJ Cruiser. He is supported by a second dealer-backed Toyota for Saleh Al-Saleh and French co-driver Xavier Caminada. The Bakhashab Isuzu team fields a pair of D-max entries for Sami Al-Shammeri and Abdullah Al-Yaeesh. Other leading Saudis include Mtair Al-Shammeri, Farhan Al-Ghaleb, Saeed Al-Mouri and Rajih Al-Shammeri in a provisional 41-car field.
Additional international competitors include Oman’s Nizar Al-Shanfari in a Honda Buggy, England’s Dubai-based Mark Powell and Welsh co-driver Quin Evans in a Predator X 188 and Dubai-based Ian Barker and co-driver Ian Rodgers in a Nissan Patrol.
The experienced UAE Desert Challenge campaigner Yayha Al-Helai has entered with Abdulhaleem Bin Zaid in their Nissan Patrol, alongside UAE drivers Ali Hassain Obaid, Salim Rashid, Fadi Melki, Nabil Al-Shamsi, Saeed Al-Hameli and Matar Al-Mansoori. Kuwait is represented by Nasser Al-Ajmi.
Teams attended pre-race technical formalities at the Maghwat conference facility in Ha’il on Monday (February 7). Competitive action gets underway with a timed super special stage at 15.30hrs tomorrow (Tuesday, February 8). Legs two and three will run through the An Nafud desert to the north and west of Ha’il on Wednesday, February 9th and Thursday, February 10th.
2011/02/08 | 00:44 CET | ARTICLE: MR/SY/PERKINS