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Headline: Rajeh Al-Shammeri takes outright victory in Hail Baja

Rajeh Al-Shammeri and co-driver Mubarak Al-Shammeri clinched a thrilling victory in the 2007 Hail Saudi Baja, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's first ever international motorsport event, which finished in Hail on Sunday afternoon. The pair began the day in third overall in their Toyota Land Cruiser, but hit the front on the closing kilometres when their main UAE rivals hit trouble.

Second position in a closely-fought event, where the overall lead swapped and changed over the two desert sections, fell to overnight leaders Ali Matar Al-Kebti and Ali Mirza Shahin, who prevented a complete whitewash of the podium for the Al-Shammeri family from the Hail Province by taking second overall in their Nissan Patrol. Saudi's Mufadi Al-Shammeri was third.

"I was really happy to be the first Saudi driver yesterday and decided to push hard today to try and win the rally," said a delighted Rajeh, who now has the distinction of being the first ever winner of an international motorsport event in Saudi Arabia. "We had our fair share of problems over the two days, but it is a fantastic feeling to win the Hail Rally."

Seventeen of the original 30 starters began the final 198.60km selective in the Nufud desert to the west of Hail and the UAE's Ali Matar Al-Ketbi held an 8m 04s advantage over fellow countrymen Abdullah Al-Herais. Al-Herais only took up rallying three years ago and began the final section after replacing a broken front axle on his Nissan at the overnight halt. Rajeh Al-Shammeri was the leading Saudi into the final stage after overcoming a puncture and a suspension problem on the opening leg.

Ahmed Bin Soughat had lost time over the closing kilometres of leg two with a failing clutch, although replacing the master cylinder at the overnight service cured the problem and he pledged a big attack on the final morning from fifth place.

But Saudi's Salman Al-Shammeri led the field at the first PC, with Soughat and Khalaf Al-Shammeri in second and third. The overnight leader was down in ninth, but there was disappointment for Al-Herais. The UAE driver rolled his Nissan out of the event 30km after the start at a location one and a half kilometres away from the designated route. There was further misery for the UAE when Ali Al-Shawi was forced out of sixth place with terminal engine problems.

Mohana Al Saadi was running first on the road at the second passage control at 79.45km, ahead of Salman Al-Shammeri, Mohammed Al-Shammeri and Bin Soughat, as several drivers jostled for the top three positions. Sami Talab Al-Shammeri, who had begun the stage in 15th position in the overall standings, was the fastest at the refuelling point at 138.33km, with Mohammed Al-Shammeri in close contention. Bin Soughat lost 15 minutes and his chance of taking the win, although the outcome was wide open with a mere 49km still run.

The closing kilometres were held over fast, open tracks to the finish at Diehan and Salman Al-Shammeri used his local knowledge to eventually win the leg in a time of 3h 12m 24s. Sami Talab Al-Shammeri was second in another Toyota Land Cruiser and Mohammed Al-Shammeri set the third quickest time in his Nissan. Bin Soughat completed an agonizing event for the UAE by rolling his Nissan before the final passage control.

The event was organised by the Saudi Motor Sports Committee (SMSC) 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, with the full support of the General Headquarters for Youth Welfare and the Higher Association for Tourism.

"We are very proud to have hosted the first ever international motorsport event in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and hope that we can welcome a round of the FIA International Cup for Bajas in 2008," said Mishaal Al-Sudairy, chairman of the organising committee. "A great deal of hard work has gone into making this possible and I would personally like to thank HRH Prince Saud Bin Abdul Mohsen Bin Abdul Aziz and all our sponsors and supporters for their invaluable support in making this event possible."

The decision on whether the Hail Saudi Baja joins the 2008 FIA International Cup for Bajas now rests with the sport's governing body, the FIA. The Saudi Motor Sports Committee have gone to great lengths to establish a top class Baja-type event in Hail. Inclusion in next year's championship would be a fitting reward for their efforts.

Top 10 Overall classification after leg 3

01. Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Al-Shammeri (KSA) I Toyota Landcruiser I 08:47:03
02. Al-Ketbi (UAE)/Shahin (UAE) I Nissan Patrol I 09:09:39
03. Al-Shammary (KSA)/Al-Shammary (KSA) I Toyota Landcruiser I 09:27:10
04. Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Al-Shammeri (KSA) I Toyota Landcruiser I 10:02:53
05. Al-Furaidi (KSA)/Al-Busmait (BAH) I Nissan Patrol I 10:19:52
06. Al-Galeb (KSA)/Al-Qunon (KSA) I Toyota Landcruiser I 10:44m 28
07. Al-Shammery (KSA)/Al-Shammery (KSA) I Landcruiser I 10:51:26
08. Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Al-Shammeri (KSA) I Landcruiser I 11:34:19
09. Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Al-Shammeri (KSA) I Nissan Patrol I 11:37:35
10. Al-Gonan (KSA)/Al-Sanose (KSA) I Nissan Patrol I 12:09:43

2007/02/13 | 11:18 CET | Editor: MR/Neil Perkins

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