|Italian Baja: Ex World Champion Al Mutaiwei 7th after first Rally since 2004.|
Dubai’s former FIA World Champion Khalifa Al Mutaiwei and German co-driver Andreas Schulz finished seventh overall in the 19th Italian Baja, round one of the 2012 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, which finished in north-east Italy on Sunday. For Al Mutaiwei it was a "comeback" after 8 years.
Problems on the second of Saturday’s two special stages prevented the Emirati driver from challenging for the top three on the final day in his Mini All4 Racing, on an event where the Russian driver Vladimir Vasilyev (G-Force Proto) snatched an unofficial 37-second victory from Dutchman Peter van Merksteijn (Toyota Hi-Lux).
"I have been very happy with the car, especially the handling and the suspension," said Al-Mutaiwei, the winner of the 2004 FIA World Cup at the wheel of a BMW X5CC. "It’s very much like a WRC car. I have also been happy with the progress and, without yesterday’s problems, I would have been in the top three. I must remember though that this is not a desert event. It’s a gravel one and it has been very rough and short, so you cannot recover the lost time, build a lead or bridge a gap when you have problems."
Driving a Mini prepared by Sven Quandt’s X-raid team and run under the patronage of Dubai’s crown prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Al-Mutaiwei had slipped to 11th overall at the end of Saturday’s two runs through the Tagliamento stage.
Al-Mutaiwei had started the special from fourth overall but lost over six minutes to eventual stage winner Jean-Louis Schlesser with the 18th fastest time. The car stopped after a water splash and it took time for Al-Mutaiwei to get going again. "I wasn’t too disappointed," added the Emirati. "Because my pace had been good and I would have been running inside the top three but for the problem."
He began the final day 7min 51sec behind the Frenchman, a twice winner of the Dakar Rally. Vladimir Vasilyev held second, Finland’s Toni Gardemeister was third and Czech front-runner Miroslav Zapletal held fourth.
An 80.86km special was repeated on two occasions on Sunday and Al-Mutaiwei set the fourth quickest time on the first run behind Vasilyev, van Merksteijn and Schlesser.
The Fazza Rally Team star then recorded the fifth fastest special on the fifth and final timed test, with Vasilyev again winning the stage and doling enough to confirm outright victory over van Merksteijn by the margin of just 37 seconds after nearly four hours of racing.
2012/03/18 | 18:54 CET | ARTICLE: MR/SY/HS/PERKINS