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This is the single-news section of the marathonrally.com news "Offroad & Motorsports". To see all news please use the link under the article or navigate with the left main-navigation.









Hail Saudi Baja: Gadasin leads top-class field, Al Attiyah Favourite.




Russian Boris Gadasin will lead an international field of 48 teams from 13 countries across the start line of the 2008 Saudi Arabian Hail Baja, round one of the FIA International Cup for Cross-Country Bajas, on Tuesday afternoon. The Russian and co-driver Alexander Mironenko are the top seeds in the three-day rally, although their Overdrive Racing Nissan Navara Pick-Up is sure to come under fierce pressure from Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, the revelation of the 2007 UAE Desert Challenge who set several fastest selective section times in his official X-raid BMW X3CC against the world’s finest drivers from the Volkswagen and Mitsubishi factory teams.

Al-Attiyah arrived in Hail on Monday, fresh from taking a disappointing 40th overall in the wintry conditions of the Swedish International Rally, but the bright sunny conditions that greeted him and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel hide the fact that temperatures drop considerably at night in this part of the Saudi Arabian desert in February. Al-Attiyah is delighted with the progress his Trebur-based team have made with his X3CC and the Qatari is the obvious favourite to win the event.

Qatar’s Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani won the regional rally series 15 years ago and has been competing in UAE 4x4 rallies for the last few seasons. His powerful Nissan Patrol will not have the outright speed of Al-Attiyah’s X3CC, but Sheikh Hamed is experienced enough to know that a podium finish is a possibility. He won the T2 category in the FIA Baja Cup last year - including a fine third place in the Baja GB - and is also a former UAE national champion.

Czech driver Miroslav Zapletal won last year’s Baja GB and is sure to feature among the fastest times, although he, Dutch driver Toni van Deijne and Hungarian Laszlo Gabor will be running across the Nafud desert for the first time and may need time to acclimatise to the type of terrain they will face over the next three days. Zapletal is one of several European drivers planning to tackle each round of the FIA series in 2008.

QMMF president Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah has pushed Qatar motorsport into the spotlight for all the right reasons in recent months, but he is taking a break from frantic World Super Bike and Moto GP commitments to take part in the Hail event with his cousin’s usual Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson.

Nasser Khalifa has over 20 years’ experience in rallying and the stage times he sets in a powerful Land Rover are sure to be compared with those of Lebanese veteran Michel Saleh, who wheels out a similar V8-engined car that is owned by Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum. "I know that a top three finish is a very realistic possibility," admitted Saleh, who is making his first visit to Hail. "I have a well prepared car and feel confident about my chances."

The UAE has sent strength in numbers to take part in Saudi Arabia’s first FIA championship event: Yayha Al-Helai is better known for his exploits in the UAE Desert Challenge at the wheel of a Liberty Chevrolet, but he teams up with Khaled Al-Kendi to take part in a Nissan Patrol.

Other UAE representatives include Team Saluki’s Mark Powell, Saleh Said Al-Ahmed, Abdullah Al-Herais, Matar Al-Mansouri, Abdullah Al-Ketbi and Saeed Al-Ketbi, several of whom have been supported by Sheikh Marwan from the Emirates Motor Sports Federation. Meanwhile, Kuwait and Syria are also represented further down the field, with Saleh Bin Eidan flying the Kuwaiti flag in Hail.

Saudi Arabian drivers, understandably, make up the bulk of the entry, with last year’s Hail Baja champion Rajeh Al-Shammeri seeded at four in his new car. Last season the local driver shocked the establishment by pedalling an ageing Pick-Up to victory, but he has a Mitsubishi Pajero at his disposal this season and will be relying on local knowledge as much as outright speed if he is to gain a top five finish on this occasion.

"I would like to welcome all our overseas visitors to the event this year," said Mishaal Al-Sudairy, chairman of the organising committee. "We have worked hard to ensure that we exceed the requirements and guidelines laid down by the FIA and wish everyone a safe and successful week’s sport in Saudi Arabia."

"Recent rains have compacted some of the desert terrain in the north-east, particularly on leg three," admitted clerk of the course Elie Semaan, who visited Hail as an event steward in 2006. "Leg two has some changes to the route that was used last year, but the final day is very similar. It is over 95% sandy terrain, there are no big rocks and it should be fast and smooth surfaces. Several places are particularly twisty, but the opening leg is well defined - the tracks are used by locals during the year. It is similar terrain to the dunes that were used in the Qatar Baja, but is very different to Tunisia, Morocco or the UAE Desert Challenge."

Leading drivers and officials attended the pre-event press conference at the Maghwat conference facility on Monday evening, although the ceremonial start will take place at Maghwat at 2pm on Tuesday afternoon. Teams then head into the opening super special stage at 3.30pm across an area of sandy terrain on the outskirts of Hail city centre.

The three-day event is being held under the patronage of HRH Prince Saud Bin Abdul Mohsen Bin Abdul Aziz, Governor of Hail, President of the Supreme Commission for Hail Development and the Head of the Supreme Commission of the Hail Rally and reaches its conclusion on Thursday afternoon (February 14th) at the Maghwat facility.

Leading starters - top 12 only

01. Boris Gadasin (RU)/Alexander Mironenko (RU)
02. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Matthieu Baumel (F)
03. Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani (QA)/George Sarayan (AUS)
04. Rajeh Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Mohammed Khashoqji (KSA)
05. Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB)
06. Farhan Al-Galeb (KSA)/Abdullah Al-Gonoon (KSA)
07. Mofadi Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Mohammed Rubah (KSA)
08. Michel Saleh (RL)/Joseph Matar (RL)
09. Wolfgang Wels (D)/Carsten Sodemann (D)
10. Laszlo Gabor (H)/Palik Darazsi (H)
11. Yayha Al-Helai (UAE)/Khaled Al-Kendi (UAE)
12. Miroslav Zapletal (CZ)/Miloslav Janacek (CZ)

The Al-Nafud desert is sometimes called the Great Nafud and covers northern Saudi Arabia for about 25,000 square miles (64,000 square kilometres). The reddish, sandy region (iron oxide gives the sand a red tint) lies at an elevation of 3,000 feet (900 metres) and also has areas of water and grass for nomadic herding and agriculture. The desert has been a barrier to travel for ages, but improved road infrastructure links with the north are under development.

Saudi Arabia’s other major desert is the Rub Al-Khali (Empty Quarter), which hosts the UAE Desert Challenge across the border in Abu Dhabi, and spans an area of 250,000 square miles (650,000 square km). It is one of the most forboding regions in the world and was largely unexplored until the 1950s. A third, smaller region of sand is the Ad Dahna, a narrow band of sand mountains south of the Great Nafud.

Hail (pronounced Hi’il) is an oasis city in Nejd in north-western Saudi Arabia. It is the capital of the province of the same name and has a growing population of around 280,000. It is a largely agricultural region with grain (particularly wheat), date and fruit production. The city is surrounded by the Jabal Shammar mountain range. Water from the rocky massif collects on the granite valley floor under a layer of soil to provide a natural oasis for agricultural requirements.

Traditionally Hail derived its wealth from being on the camel (caravan) route of the Hajj pilgrimage from Mesopotamia, Persia and the Levant. It was built 1200 years ago and named after the wife of Abbasid Caliph Harun Al-Rashid. Hail is situated 300km from Buraydah, 640km from the capital Riyadh and 400km from Madina.

2008/02/12 | 15:32 CET | Editor: MR/HS/Neil Perkins






















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