Saudi’s Al-Rajhi to debut new Mini Cooper works rally in Qatar

Yazeed Al-Rajhi © DR

– X-raid also set to field Mini All4 Racings for Qatar’s Abu Issa and Poland’s Przygonski

– Former WRC star Martin Prokop aims to build upon second place in Abu Dhabi

This week’s Qatar Cross-Country Rally, round four of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, will see the first appearance in the FIA World Cup and the Middle East of X-raid’s new Mini John Cooper Works Rally in the hands of the Saudi Arabian driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi.


The Trebur-based team has been at the forefront of this sporting discipline for 14 years, initially with BMW X5 and X3CC derivatives and then with the Mini All4 Racing. But Sven Quandt’s team was developing an upgrade to the Mini behind the scenes and it made its debut at the Dakar Rally this year. Al-Rajhi’s car in Qatar features a lower centre of gravity and numerous performance and driveability improvements.

The Mini John Cooper Works Rally is named after the legendary John Cooper, who has behind the British Mini Cooper S, and has a completely new design based on the Mini Countryman. A revised tubular steel frame enables a third spare wheel to be stored in the lower section of the car and this allows for the repositioning of the cooling system.

The new design spent many hours in BMW Group’s wind tunnel facility to improve aerodynamics and Al-Rajhi hopes that these improvements will give him the edge over the Toyotas and Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi’s Peugeot 3008 DKR in Qatar this week. The car is powered by a twin-turbo six-cylinder diesel engine and delivers around 340hp and a massive 800Nm of torque at low revs.

“One of the advantages achieved in the wind tunnel was a higher top speed and better acceleration beyond 140km/h,” said X-raid’s team director Sven Quandt. “We also placed around 50kg in the centre of the car, around 50cm lower, to improve its handling.”

The Saudi and regular German co-driver Timo Gottschalk will be supported in Qatar by a pair of Mini All4 Racings for the local driver Mohammed Abu Issa and his French navigator Xavier Panseri and Pole Jakub Przygonski and Belgian co-driver Tom Colsoul. Abu Issa finished an excellent third overall in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago and is in contention for the FIA World Cup heading into his home event.

Argentina’s Orlando Terranova, Przygonski and Abu Issa finished sixth, seventh and 10th overall in their three new Minis at January’s Dakar Rally.

A back injury sustained at the recent Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge means that Russian driver Vladimir Vasilyev will miss out on the Qatar event in a fourth Mini.

Meanwhile, former WRC star Martin Prokop is gaining attention for his performances in cross-country rallying since switching to the off-road discipline with Toyota at the Dakar Rally two years ago. A regular top 10 finisher on rounds of the WRC, Prokop has adapted his special stage skills superbly and delivered a stunning performance at the recent Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge to finish second overall in a Ford F-150 Evo.

That result lifted the Czech driver to an unofficial third in the points’ standings in the Drivers’ Championship. The varied nature of the tracks used on the Qatar Cross-Country Rally may well suit Prokop’s driving style a lot more than the dunes of Abu Dhabi, but navigator Jan Tomanek will also need to be on top form with page after page of daunting navigation in the road books set to challenge the entire field once the Qatar desert sections get underway on Wednesday morning.

Tomorrow (Monday), the rally offices officially open at the Losail International Circuit and teams pass their compulsory administration and scrutineering checks. The official pre-event press conference takes place at 11.00hrs on Tuesday morning and precedes the ceremonial start at 15.30hrs and the start of the super special stage at Losail from 15.40hrs.

Neil Perkins,