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Hail Saudi Baja: UAE'S Ali Matar Al-Ketbi takes overall lead in Hail.

The UAE's Ali Matar Al-Ketbi and Ali Mirza Shahin were the unofficial leaders of the Hail Saudi Baja after setting the fastest time in Saturday's punishing 261.35km selective section to the north of Hail city in north-central Saudi Arabia. The UAE's Abdullah Al-Herais and Ali Hassan Obaid completed the section in second place at the wheel of a Nissan Patrol, while Rajeh Al-Shammeri and Mubarak Al-Shammeri led numerous members of the Al-Shammeri family in third overall in a Toyota Landcruiser.

Saturday's competitive action formed a 261.35km loop in the Nufud desert to the north of Jubbah and Hail, and offered a wide variety of sandy tracks and dramatic undulating terrain. Twenty-nine of the 30 teams resumed this morning: Saudi Arabia's Mohana Al-Saadi was refused a start by event officials on an eligibility and safety issue.

The UAE's Ahmed Bin Soughat was the first drivers into the special, but it was clearly not an advantage to lead the way and Saudi Arabia's Salman Al-Shammeri was comfortably the fastest through the opening Bir Al Radefah passage control at the 50.82km point in a Toyota.

Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Al Rmal suffered terminal clutch problems in his Nissan Patrol. Ahmad Al-Sheqawi lost over an hour in the sand in his Mitsubishi and the hotly-tipped UAE driver Raed Baker endured clutch maladies and his challenge for victory in a Range Rover ended on the end of a tow rope. "There was a lot of soft sand at the stage start and we were running15th on the road for some reason," groaned Baker. "We went to pull away and we got stuck in the sand and that was the end of the clutch. It is very disappointing to come this far and retire like that."

By the second passage control Sami Talab Al-Shammeri's Toyota had edged into the lead, followed closely by Prince Khaled Bin Sultan's class-leading T2 Mitsubishi Pajero and Abdullah Al-Herais in a Nissan Patrol. Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Al-Marri suffered time penalties and eventually succumbed to serious navigational problems after his Omani co-driver struggled with the GPS system.

At Taas Zbeden (PC3 at 104.96km), Mufadi Al-Shammeri edged into the overall lead in his Toyota, the Saudi driver running two minutes ahead of the UAE's Abdullah Al-Herais, with Khaled Bin Sultan and Bin Soughat in close contention. The UAE's Ali Matar Al-Kitbi was fifth in a Nissan Patrol.

Salman Al-Shammeri resumed his role at the front of the field by the mandatory 30-minute refuelling stop at 154.50km, with Bin Soughat, Al-Kitbi and Khaled Bin Sultan hot on his heels. As the route headed in a south-easterly direction towards Al Ghadah, Khaled Bin Sultan held the unofficial lead on paper, from Al-Kitbi, but the UAE driver eventually set the fastest time of the day, finishing the gruelling section in 4h 52m 10s.

Khaled Bin Sultan found himself planted in soft sand with a broken clutch a mere 100 metres from the stage finish. "It is so frustrating to have driven so well and be this close to the end before we got stuck," said the dejected Saudi, who had suffered fuel problems earlier on.

Tomorrow (Sunday) marks the third and final leg of the 2007 Hail Saudi Baja and teams will tackle a 198.60km selective section to the north and west of Hail. The section begins at 09.50hrs and features four passage controls and a refuelling point at Mohafar.

From the start to PC1 the track follows a hard sandy surface with many hidden crests and undulating trails. After 75km the terrain is much faster and joins a wide road towards the old Baaja well and PC2. The section between the second and third passage controls contains numerous tricky sand dunes and deceptive crests are common for many kilometres to PC3.

After refuelling at 138.33km, there are several kilometres of rough sand tracks towards a large wadi and the final passage control has been placed at the end of the wadi. Sand hills, crests, deceptive drops and several wadis are prevalent to the 182.42km point and a fast track takes crews on to the finish.

Positions on leg 2 (261.35 km): unofficial @ 14.30 hrs

01. Al-Ketbi (UAE)/Shahin (UAE) I Nissan Patrol I 04:52:10
02. Al-Herais (UAE)/Obaid (UAE) I Nissan Patrol I 04:59:07
03. Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Al-Shammeri (KSA) I Toyota Landcruiser I 04:59:38
04. Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Allah Al-Shammeri (KSA) I Toyota Landcruiser I 05:06:33
05. Bin Soughat (UAE)/Marjan (UAE) I Nissan Patrol I 05:19:18

Overall classification after leg 2: unofficial @ 14.30 hrs

01. Al-Ketbi (UAE)/Mirza Shahin (UAE) I Nissan Patrol I 04:57:25
02. Al-Herais (UAE)/Hassan Obaid (UAE) I Nissan Patrol I 05:04:29
03. Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Al-Shammeri (KSA) I Toyota Landcruiser I 05:05:04
04. Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Allah Al-Shammeri (KSA) I Toyota Landcruiser I 05:11:20
05. Bin Soughat (UAE)/Marjan (UAE) I Nissan Patrol I 05:22:57
06. Al-Shawi (UAE)/Abdulhaleem Zayed (UAE) I Nissan Patrol I 05:34:21

2007/02/10 | 18:18 CET | Editor: MR/Neil Perkins

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