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Ha´il Saudi Baja: Teamreport review from FJ-Team and Xavier Caminada.




Teamreport from FJ-Team: We have always known that Xavier Caminada was not just your ordinary Frenchman. Running marathonrallys and Co-Driving in rallies around the world, one imagines that Xavier has always hovered in the upper percentile of every competition he’s entered.

So when Team FJ discovered that the Toyota FJ Cruiser would not be ready in time to race in the Hail Baja 2011, it was only a matter of timing and logistics before his skills were eagerly snapped up by someone else.

Although Saudi Arabia isn’t the holiday destination of choice for most, the north central region of the Kingdom provides some of the most intense desert vistas and majestic scenery known on this earth. Though few have had the fortune of experiencing it first hand, those that have seen it whizz by out the side window of a 4X4 rally car will always plan the enormous hike deep into the back waters of Saudi Arabia for another round of the rally.

The Hail Baja was a 3 day, 2,500km 4X4 endurance style rally. Announced as Saudi’s premier off-road event, it was organised by the Saudi Arabia Motorsport Federation, under the patronage of HRH 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 and the new Presidency of His Royal Highness Prince Sultan Bin Bandar Al-Faisal).

Towering dunes and long sweeping sand tracks culminate in a feeling that, if the camels were replaced with buffalos and the Barbican advertising with Jack Daniels, would not be unlike the deserts of Colorado or Arizona.

The 33 entrants of the rally were drawn along the usual geographical lines typical to those familiar with desert rallying: 6 Emiratis, 1 Qatari, 1 Kuwaiti and 25 Saudis- of which one was the Saudi-French pairing of driver Saleh Al Saleh and Co-Driver Xavier Caminada.

Caminada, who has the navigational skills of a desert fox, the attention to detail of an Autistic child and the sense of humour of Mr. Bean, makes a valuable and nigh indispensible asset to any rally team. When Toyota Saudi Arabia heard that he was without a drive for the Hail Baja 2011, suffice to say he was off the market.

A few days later Caminada was flown to Riyadh, where a rental car and a 6 hour drive to the Rally HQ in Hail awaited him. There he met his driver for the first time - Saleh Al Saleh - and prepared for the event ahead.

Opinions, hopes and dreams were not disappointed when on the Prologue (Stage 1) Xavier and his driver came second overall - finishing a mere 40 seconds behind recently crowned Race to Dakar King Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and German Co-Driver Timo Gottschalk in their Volkswagen Race Touareg.

Day 2 saw the team getting bogged down in the soft sand off track and quickly, steadfastly stuck. Both Al-Saleh and Xavier struggled to play with the FJ’s sequential gearbox, loosing valuable time and, in the end, 7 places, to finish the day 9th overall.

On Day 3 the team were back on form, exercising due caution on the wadi section and cruising by many teams enthusiastic for a good finish but without enough forethought for their tyres and their natural predisposition to punctures when placed in the path of rocky, mountainous terrain. The team overtook 4 cars during the course of the 215 km stage. In the last 15 km’s driver Saleh Al Saleh pushed as hard as his machine could take him, overtaking a final 3 fellow competitors and recovering 15 minutes to finish on the podium, 3rd place overall.

And so Caminada celebrated his most recent podium victory with sparkling date juice and freshly roasted goat, in the company of Saudi’s patripotestal elite. He takes home yet another trophy, a shiny bronze medal and a new smiling ‘thumbs up’ photo to place on the mantelpiece of achievement.

There is little rest for the over-achievers however, with the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge less than 4 weeks away it will seem like a mid afternoon siesta before he is dry cleaning his overalls and once again aiming for a podium finish.

2011/03/09 | 09:47 CET | ARTICLE: MR/SY/CAMINADA












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