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

Hail Saudi Baja: Saudi Arabia creates first intern. Motorsport Event.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia enters the history books this weekend by running its first ever international motor sport event. The Hail Saudi Baja ­ branded and advertised as the Hail Rally 2007 The Great Nufud Challenge - is an official candidate rally for inclusion in the 2008 FIA International Cup for Bajas and gets underway on Friday afternoon in Hail city in the north-central region of the Kingdom.

The Saudi Motor Sports Committee (SMSC) have laid on a challenging three-day competition for an international field of 36 cars. Senior FIA officials will monitor the organisation closely over the weekend to decide whether the event joins established Baja-type rallies in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Wales in an expanded and potentially thrilling FIA championship in 2008. Over 50,000 spectators are expected to flood into Hail city this weekend to witness one timed special stage near the city centre on Friday evening and two varied selective sections on Saturday and Sunday in the remote deserts to the north and west of the city.

The event is being held under the patronage of the Governor of Hail, HRH Prince Saud bin Abdul Mohsen Bin Abdul Aziz, and with the full support of Hail Development Authority, the General Headquarters for Youth Welfare and the Higher Association for Tourism. Not only is the Hail Saudi Baja the biggest sport's event ever to take place in the Hail region, but it marks Saudi Arabia's first footsteps into international motorsport ­ a major step for the largest country in the Middle East, which has always remained in the motorsporting shadow of neighbouring Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE.

Heading the entry is Saudi Arabia's Farhan Abdullah Al-Galeb, who won the trial Baja event in 2006. His Toyota Landcruiser will kick-start the competitive action on Friday afternoon, although stiff competition is expected from the UAE's Ahmed Bin Soughat and Ali Al-Shawi in a pair of powerful Nissan Patrols.

Qatar's Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani, the 1993 FIA Middle East Rally Champion and defending UAE National Champion, opted sportingly to permit a local driver to enter his Nissan Patrol at the 11th hour. The decision deprived the Qatari of a chance to follow up his win in the recent Umm Al Quwain Rally with victory in Hail.

Saudi Arabian drivers dominate the entry list, with the likes of FIA Middle East championship regulars Prince Khaled Bin Faisal and Abdullah Al-Marri among the top 10 starters. They will be co-driven by the experienced Lebanese Joseph Mattar and Oman's Hamoud Al-Jabry, respectively. The UAE's Raed Baker should feature strongly in his Range Rover; Dubai-based businessman Baker is a former winner of the 1000 Dunes Rally in the UAE and achieved moderate success in special stage rallying in a Toyota Celica before switching to the cross-country discipline.

"On behalf of the organising committee, I would like to welcome all the teams, officials and members of the media to Hail," said Mishaal Al-Sudairy, Chairman of the Organising Committee. "We have put many hours into making this event happen and I hope that everyone enjoys a safe weekend of motorsport in the Hail region."

The route for this year's Hail Saudi Baja features classic desert terrain on sandy surfaces. There are sections of treacherous sand dunes, mountaineous tracks, fast piste and twisty gravel trails. Saturday's 291.1km selective section starts at 08.15hrs near Jubbah, north of Hail, and features passage controls at Bir Al Radefah (50.82km), Bir Al Sora (73,19km), Taas Zbeden (104.96km) and Al Ghadeh (220.63km) before finishing close to the start. There is a refuelling zone at Bir Al Alim (154.50 km).

Sunday's 198.60km selective section takes place to the west of Hail and starts at 09.50hrs. The stage features four passage controls and passes through Bir Tweaya, Bir Al Baaja and Mohatar, before finishing close to Dlehan. There are several stunning mountain sections around Jubbah and Bir Al Baaja, before the route heads south-west towards the refuelling point at Mohatar.

"These are some of the most beautiful and challenging stages you will find anywhere in the world," enthused Dubai-based scrutineer and former Toyota Team Middle East manager Terry Plant, who visited the trial event in 2006. "They are a cross between the beautiful mountain tracks in Oman, the sand dunes of Dubai and the deserts of Qatar. They are very difficult stages. This country has such superb potential for rallying. It spans such vast distances over such varied terrain. You have snow in the north of the country, cold desert winters and then the baking heat in the south in the Rub Al Khali. Everyone is so friendly in Hail and keen for this event to progress."

Crucial sponsorship for Saudi Arabia's premier Baja comes from Al-Maraa'i, the Saudi Basic Industries Company (SABIC), Iqtisadiah newspapers, Al-Rasheed Engineering, MBC, Safra Power, Yamama Cement, Toyota, the Ahli Commercial Bank, Saudi Airways and Bison energy drink. Tomorrow (Friday) the ceremonial start takes place at 14.00hrs at the Prince Sultan Centre in Hail, prior to the opening timed two-kilometre super special at 15.06hrs.

Leading starters

Farhan Abdullah Al-Galeb (KSA)/Abdullah Al-Aknon (KSA) | Toyota Landcruiser
Ahmed Bin Soughat (UAE)/Wael Marjan (UAE) | Nissan Patrol
Khaled Bin Faisal (KSA)/Joseph Mattar (RL) | Mitsubishi Pajero
Abdullah Al-Marri (KSA)/Hamoud Al-Jabry (OM) | Mitsubishi Pajero
Ali Al-Shawi (UAE)/TBA | Nissan Patrol
Saleh Saud Al-Shedokhy (KSA)/Abdullah Al-Nashmy (KSA) | Nissan Patrol
Raed Baker (UAE)/Nabil Ahmadi (UAE) | Range Rover
Mohammed Al-Nashmy (KSA)/Ahmed Al-Nashmy (KSA) | Nissan Patrol
Mufady Abdullah Al-Shammary (KSA)/Hamad Al-Shammary (KSA) | Toyota Landcruiser
Khalifa Rashid Al-Ketbi (UAE)/Majid Al-Sweidan (UAE) | Ford

2007/02/08 | 12:18 CET | Editor: MR/HS/Neil Perkins

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