Overdrive Racing’s Al-Rajhi maintains FIA Baja title pusch with second place at Baja Poland

– Dutchman Kees Koolen guides his Overdrive OT3 to FIA T3 success

Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi delivered a solid performance to seal a hard-earned second place in Baja Poland, round seven of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas and the third event in the new FIA European Baja series, in Szczecin on Sunday.

The Toyota Hilux pilot and his Ulster co-driver Michael Orr stayed out of trouble on the demanding, slippery and muddy terrain to earn another haul of valuable points for finishing 10min 43.1sec behind the experienced local driver Krzysztof Holowczyc.

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Rajhi duly continued to close the gap on fellow countryman Yasir Seaidan in the fight for the FIA World Cup for Bajas drivers’ title and is now locked in a tussle with Holowczyc for European Cup honours heading into the remaining two rounds in Italy and Portugal.

« It was a difficult final day with a lot of mud, but we finished second and that is a good position here, » said Al-Rajhi. « We did a good job. It was a difficult event but you take more experience when it is like this. With the rain it was very slippery. »

Overdrive Racing’s Jean-Marc Fortin added: « Muddy, difficult and demanding, that is Baja Poland. Yazeed takes the second place. That is a normal result for him. You can’t come in Poland and beat Holowczyc. Also Benediktas Vanegas finished third, so there are two Toyotas on the podium. That is good. We are still in the fight for the championship and that will go to the last two rallies in Italy and Portalegre.” It will be a good fight until the end. »

Meanwhile, Overdrive Racing also enjoyed FIA T3 success in Poland, courtesy of the experienced Dutchman Kees Koolen and his navigator Mirjam Pol. Driving an Overdrive OT3 in the category for the first time since Qatar last year, Koolen won the qualifying stage and went on to dominate his rivals to eventually finish 2min 58.9sec ahead of Spanish driver Santiago Navarro, also in an Overdrive OT3.

« I was here last year for three races with the Can-Am, » said Koolen, who was also placed ninth in the general classification. « It was more a Camel Trophy than a race. We had a submarine with the water level up to the windscreen. It was a disaster. I used the Overdrive OT3 in a cross-country race in Qatar a year and a half ago. A lot of things have been changed on the car and I thought it was a nice opportunity to test the car again. I was here to learn this car and see what progress has been made. »

The qualifying stage of 5.77km took place on a narrow defined track through the forests on a sandy and wet surface to the north-west of Szczecin. Al-Rajhi stopped the clocks in 7min 42.3sec and slotted into second overall behind Holowczyc.

« We had a nice stage but the conditions were quite difficult, » said Orr. « There was some rain and it was rough and narrow and bumpy. We focus on our job for the weekend. »

The Saudi elected to start the first of the longer selective sections at the Drawsko Pomorskie military proving ground from third on the road. Holowczyc called upon his local experience to set the fastest time and extended his lead over Al-Rajhi to 6min 21.1sec. Benediktas Vanagas held third and Al-Rajhi’s FIA Baja series rival, Seaidan, was fourth.

« We drive well. Michael did a good job and the car worked well, » said Al-Rajhi. « There were a lot of crests and a lot of difficult places. The local guy knows very well the stage and that makes a difference. »

The 184.05km selective section was repeated on Saturday afternoon and Holowczyc increased his lead over Al-Rajhi to 8min 27.1sec heading to the night halt in Szczecin.

Repeat runs through a pair of short selective sections of 9.65km and 17.35km brought the competitive action to a close on Sunday. The Pole managed to extend his lead to 9min 12.1sec through the opener but the pair tied to the second with times of 19min 26sec on the longer second test.

« There was a lot of mud and a lot of water on these two stages, » said Al-Rajhi. « The wheels are spinning all the time. The T4s were in front of us. That tells you what the conditions were like. It was very slippery. »

Al-Rajhi had settled for second position, however, and erred on the side of caution through the remaining two passes to conserve his second place in the rankings and move closer to Seaidan in the battle for the FIA Bajas title.

The FIA World and European Cups for Cross-Country Bajas continue in northern Italy in mid-September.

2021 Baja Poland – result
1. Krzysztof Holowczyc (POL)/Lukasz Kurzeja (POL) MINI John Cooper Works Rally, 4hr 53min 01.2sec
2. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Michael Orr (GBR) Toyota Hilux Overdrive, 5hr 03min 44.3sec
3. Benediktas Vanegas (LIT)/Filipe Palmeiro (PRT) Toyota Hilux, 5hr 07min 49.0sec
4. Yasir Seaidan (SAU)/Alexei Kuzmich (RUS) MINI John Cooper Works Rally, 5hr 08min 54.0sec
5. Miroslav Zapletal (CZE)/Marek Sykora (SVK) Ford F-150 Evo, 5hr 16min 40.1sec
6. Marek Goczal (POL)/Michal Goleniewski (POL) Can-Am Maverick (T4), 5hr 17min 17.4sec
7. Alexandre Ré (PRT)/Pedro Ré (PRT) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T4), 5hr 26min 44.2sec
8. Saleh Al-Saif (SAU)/Sebastien Delaunay (FRA) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T4), 5hr 31min 17.1sec
9. Kees Koolen (NLD)/Mirjam Pol (NLD) Overdrive OT3 (T3), 5hr 33min 05.5sec
10. Denis Krotov (RUS)/Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS) MINI John Cooper Works Buggy, 5hr 35min 48.1sec…

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