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Hail Saudi Baja: Yazeed Al-Rajhi win, Zapletal takes third place.

Saudi Arabia's Yazeed Al-Rajhi and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel maintained their composure through the 187.70km third leg of the Saudi Ha'il Baja to record a sensational start-to-finish victory in their Nissan Navara on Thursday.

Making his first ever appearance on a Baja-type motor sport event, Al-Rajhi was the model of self-discipline over 500km of challenging Bedouin trails and off-piste tracks though the Ar Nafud desert, north of Ha'il, in north-western Saudi Arabia. His Belgian Overdrive Racing team survived a pre-event engine scare to seal a straightforward victory and Al-Rajhi was able to add to the similar success he achieved in last November's inaugural Sharqia Rally in the Eastern Province.

"It's a fantastic feeling to win this famous event at my first attempt," said Al-Rajhi. "The car was perfect and Matthieu did a great job for me with the navigation and the road book. It was so different to driving on a normal special stage rally. It was more important to find a rhythm than outright speed."

The Dubai-based British crew of Mark Powell and Paul Richards finished 42m 44s behind the flying Saudi in their Honda-engined Buggy, the Briton recording his career-best finish on an international rally. The Czech crew of Miroslav Zapletal and Tomas Ourednicek secured the final podium place in their Mitsubishi Pajero and set the second fastest time on the day's selective section. The result meant that three nationalities and three car manufacturers filled the podium positions.

Local front-runner Rajeh Al-Shammeri had passed both Zapletal and Powell early in the day's stage before falling foul of electrical gremlins and Sami Al-Shammeri eventually claimed fourth overall.

The event was held under the patronage of HRH Prince Saud Bin Abdul Mohsen Bin Abdul Aziz, Governor of Ha'il, President of the High Commission for the Development of the Ha'il region and the Head of the Supreme Commission of the Ha'il Rally.

Twenty-six of the original 30 starters tackled the 187.70km final selective section, with the UAE's Abdullah Al-Herais and David Mabbs (blown engine) being joined on the retirement list by Saudi Arabia's Farhan Al-Ghaleb and Omar Al-Lahim.

Al-Rajhi began the special at Qanna with a 25m 54s lead and passed the first virtual checkpoint in just over 28 minutes. Safeh Al-Saedi was delayed with mechanical problems for over 30 minutes and Zapletal overtook Powell, although the Briton was also coming under pressure from Rajeh Al-Shammeri. The trio were running close together before the second tracking checkpoint. Qatar's Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani was making a final day charge from 10th overall and was the third fastest driver through the early kilometres.

The runaway Baja leader noticeably eased his pace and passed the second checkpoint in just over an hour, with Al-Shammeri managing to pass Zapletal to take advantage of a cleaner track and less dust. The Saudi had already taken five minutes out of Powell's 20-minute overnight hold on second position, but the Briton had a useful cushion heading into the second half of the stage.

Al-Rajhi reached the final checkpoint well clear of his rivals and headed into the closing kilometres of the stage to record a sensational start-to-finish win, but Al-Shammeri dropped over 20 minutes to his closest rivals with electrical problems, as Zapletal and Moteer Al-Shammeri took up the challenge for the stage win. Al-Thani slipped to a virtual sixth on the day, Saudi's Moneef Al-Sulaimaini lost 37 minutes and circuit racer Abdulaziz Al-Yaeesh struggled at the rear of the field.

Al-Rajhi duly reached the finish in a time of 2m 18m 10s and Zapletal shadowed Powell over the closing kilometres but was unable to improve on third overall. Rajeh Al-Shammeri's brave challenge ended with electrical woes and this permitted Saudi drivers Sami Al-Shammeri and Safeh Al-Saedi to complete the final top five.

"I would like to thank all our sponsors for making this successful event possible and also congratulate our winners on their achievements this week," said Saudi Arabian Motor Federation president Mishaal Al-Sudairy. "Our event continues to go from strength to strength and we look forward to further expansion and innovation in 2010."

Positions on leg 3 (187.7km):
1. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (KSA)/Matthieu Baumel (F) Nissan Navara 2h 18m 10s
2. Miroslav Zapletal (CZ)/Tomas Ourednicek (CZ) Mitsubishi Pajero 2h 31m 36s
3. Sheikh Hamed bin Eid Al-Thani (QA)/George Sarayan (AUS) Nissan Patrol 2h 31m 52s
4. Mark Powell (GB)/Paul Richards (GB) Honda Buggy 2h 35m 00s
5. Sami Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Abdullah Al-Shammeri (KSA) Toyota Land Cruiser 2h 38m 13s

Positions after leg 3:
1. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (KSA)/Matthieu Baumel (F) Nissan Navara 6h 50m 34s
2. Mark Powell (GB)/Paul Richards (GB) Honda Buggy 7h 33m 18s
3. Miroslav Zapletal (CZ)/Tomas Ourednicek (CZ) Mitsubishi Pajero 7h 46m 03s
4. Sami Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Abdullah Al-Shammeri (KSA) Toyota Land Cruiser 8h 01m 45s
5. Safeh Al-Saedi (KSA)/Mishaal Al-Saedi (KSA) Nissan Patrol 8h 28m 42s
6. Ali-Al Shawi (UAE)/Ahmed Malik (UAE) Mitsubishi Pajero 8h 32m 08s
7. Sheikh Hamed bin Eid Al-Thani (QA)/George Sarayan (AUS) Nissan Patrol 8h 39m 22s
8. Moteb Al-Gnoon (KSA)/Sulaiman Al Sanoni (KSA) Nissan Patrol 8h 40m 11s
9. Ian Barker (GB)/Lee Marshal (GB) Nissan Patrol 8h 56m 07s
10. Mfadi Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Mohamed Al-Shammeri (KSA) Toyota Land Cruiser 9h 03m 35s

2009/01/29 | 12:30 CET | Editor: MR/Neil Perkins/Rita Konya

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