The new Sharqiya Baja 2019, the fifth and final round of the inaugural Saudi Toyota Desert Rally Championship, gets underway with a timed super special stage of 4.32km from 15.15hrs on Thursday afternoon.
Ahead of a field of 51 cars, nine NUTVs, 10 motorcycles, 23 quads and one truck will be two further days of competitive action through the deserts of the Eastern Province and 474.86 competitive kilometres in a compact route of 746.58km.
Several international drivers, most notably Spaniard Carlos Sainz, Zimbabwe’s Conrad Rautenbach, Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and Czech Miroslav Zapletal, will use the opportunity to finalise their preparations for January’s Dakar Rally.
In contrast, the massive Saudi Arabian contingent is spread across several categories and sporting disciplines and the series finale will decide the outcome of the Drivers’ Championship and the winner of the quad section.
Saudi Arabia’s leading drivers, Yazeed Al-Rajhi (Toyota Hilux) and Yasir Seaidan (X-raid Buggy), have fought a fascinating tussle for supremacy in the new series. Seaidan won the Aseer Rally opener and then finished behind his rival at the Qassim Rally, the Al Ula-Neom event and the Riyadh Rally.
The pair are now separated by just three points heading into the showdown on Half Moon Bay. An outright victory would give either driver the title, with 25 points awarded to the winner, 18 for second and 15 for third, but the pair face strong opposition from a plethora of Saudi rivals.
ED Racing’s Essa Al-Dossari is a distant third in the series in his Nissan Navara and can confirm that position by staying ahead of Mutair Al-Shammeri, Khalid Al-Feraihi and Faris Al-Shammeri.
Salman Al-Shammeri has already clinched the T2 title by scoring maximum points in the category for series production cross-country vehicles in three of the four rallies. His closest challenger is Yousef Al-Suwaidi, winner of T2 in the Qassim Rally, who looks a strong favourite to fend of Reda Al-Shammeri and seal the runner-up spot.
Saleh Al-Saif confirmed success in T3 before the recent event in Riyadh and tackled that rally in the NUTV class, while Ibrahim Al-Muhanna, Osama Al-Sanad and Raed Abo Theeb have cruised to the T4 title in a Mercedes truck. Hani Al-Shammeri has already sealed success as the leading Saudi co-driver in the inaugural series.
Yousef Al-Dhaif has an unassailable lead over Fahad Al-Naim and Khalil and Majid Al-Tuwaijri in the NUTV Championship, but the latter trio will be battling to finish as runner-up in the popular category.
Motorcycle honours have already gone to Mishal Alghuneim with Abdullah Al-Helal finishing the series in second place, but a host of riders are still within a shout of claiming third overall.
Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi won the quad section at the Qassim and Al Ula-Neom rallies, but a retirement in Riyadh has kept the door open for Riyadh Al-Oraifan to snatch the title in the Eastern Province. He trails his fellow Yamaha rider by 21 points with 25 available for the outright win. Several riders can still finish third, but Abdulaziz Al-Shayban heads into the ceremonial start on Half Moon Bay leading Riyadh event winner Sufiyan Al-Omar by six points.
The event is being organised by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF), under the chairmanship of H.R.H. Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal and the supervision of former FIA Middle East champion Abdullah Bakhashab.
The new Baja runs with the support of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, the General Sport Authority, Abdul Latif Jameel Motors (Toyota), the MBC Group, Al-Arabia outdoors and the Saudi Research and Marketing Group. It is also being observed as an official candidate for future inclusion in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas.
2019 Saudi Toyota Desert Rally Championship – standings after round 4 of 5
Drivers – overall : 1. Yazeed Al-Rajhi, 100 pts ; 2. Yasir Seaidan, 97 pts ; 3. Essa Al-Dossari, 60 pts ; 4. Mutair Al-Shammeri, 56 pts ; 5. Khalid Al-Feraihi, 52 pts ; 6. Faris Al-Shammeri, 42 pts ; 7. Salman Al-Shammeri, 17 pts ; 8. Sami Al-Shammeri, 14 pts ; 9. Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri, 12 pts ; 10. Ahmed Al-Shammeri, 11 pts…
T2 : 1. Salman Al-Shammeri, 118 pts ; 2. Yousef Al-Suwaidi, 89 pts ; 3. Reda Al-Shammeri, 61pts…
T3 : 1. Saleh Al-Saif, 100 pts ; 2. Shaker Al-Tuwaijri, 25 pts ; 3. Saleh Al-Abdelali, 18pts…
NUTV : 1. Yousef Al-Daif, 118 pts ; 2. Fahad Al-Naim, 60 pts ; 3. Khalil Al-Tuwaijri, 59 pts…
Motorcycles : 1. Mishal Al-Ghuneim, 100 pts ; 2. Abdullah Al-Helal, 54 pts ; 3. Talal Basseet, 18 pts…
Quads : 1. Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi, 75 pts ; 2. Riyadh Al-Oraifan, 54 pts ; 3. Abdulaziz Shayban, 43 pts…