– De Sousa Batista, Al-Thefiri and Koolen finish first, second and fourth in T4
– T3 podium finish for Alvarez; Akeel and Al-Obaidan come home seventh and 10th
– João Dias wins T3 and finishes sensational second overall in South Racing-built Can-Am
Spaniard Fernando Alvarez and Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri continued to lead their respective FIA T3 and T4 Drivers’ Championships after an enthralling Baja Portalegre, the sixth round of the 2022 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas.
Despite a gruelling route and demanding driving conditions in central Portugal, Alvarez and French co-driver Xavier Panseri managed to reach the third step of the podium in T3 on an event where the Portuguese duo of João Dias and Luis Portela de Morais used their local experience to full effect to claim the top two T3 positions and second and third overall in the general classification. Dias was driving a Can-Am built by South Racing.
Saudi Arabia’s Dania Akeel kept the pressure on Alvarez at the top of the points’ standings by finishing seventh in her South Racing Can-Am with Frenchman Laurent Lichtleuchter working as her co-driver.
Alvarez said: « Part of the stage today was really difficult because it rained a lot. There was a lot of mud and water, splashes and river crossings. We did well and we finished third. That is important for us and the World Championship. It was complicated today but it was nice. »
The FIA T4 category is set for a thrilling conclusion after Brazilian driver Cristiano de Sousa Batista claimed an emphatic victory over his South Racing Can-Am team-mate Meshari Al-Thefiri to close the gap at the top of the Drivers’ Championship. Batista teamed up with Portuguese co-driver Fauto Mota to finish in a stunning fifth place in the general classification.
Al-Thefiri and Spanish navigator Oriol Vidal finished 11min 01.3sec behind the triumphant Brazilian but the Kuwaiti had been 21 points ahead of his rival before the event. Kees Koolen and Italian co-driver Paolo Ceci came home in fourth place to maintain the Dutchman’s title challenge, but Eduard Pons and Mónica Plaza Vasquez retired on the final stage and the Spaniard’s title bid suffered a major setback as a result.
Koolen said: « It was very difficult. It was raining a lot at the beginning of the second stage today, mud, water and we are very dirty. We made no mistakes and we had a good result to finish fourth. »
Al-Thefiri added: « The first stage was good but the second one, after 20km, we did not see anything. The wipers were not working with the water and we had fog inside. Until 80km, we were trying to find the road and the maximum speed was 50 (km/h). Then we took the decision to break the window (screen) and we continue and we finished second. Now we go to Ha’il – no rain, just dunes..! »
Mashael Al-Obaidan teamed up with the experienced French co-driver François Cazalet, who claimed the FIA W2RC T3 Co-drivers’ Championship title last weekend in Spain. She reached the finish in 10th place in T3.
New Colombian driver António Marmolejo was joined by Spain’s Xavier Montasell as part of the South Racing Can-Am Team. He was classified in 12th.
Alexandre Ré clinched the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas T4 Drivers’ title on this event last season and again lined up with João Pedro Ré. On this occasion, the Portuguese duo used a T3 machine for the first time and were lying third in the category when they retired with technical issues in the first stage on Saturday morning.
South Racing Can-Am Team’s Scott Abraham said: « Another great race for the team with the three title contenders finishing strongly in the T4 category and Cristiano and Meshari coming home in first and second. It was also an excellent race by Fernando Alvarez to finish third in T3 with a South Racing-built Can-Am with João Dias driving winning the T3 category and finishing second overall.
« Now we have a short turnaround of just two days to put the cars on a ‘plane and fly them to Ha’il for the next round of the championship. »
Timed action started with a short 3.71km Qualifying Stage at Coutadas on Friday morning. This then decided the starting order for the first selective section that was shortened to 59.61km in the afternoon and ran between Ponte de Sor and Crato.
Luís Portela de Morais and former WRC rally star Armindo Araújo set the T3 pace on the Qualifying Stage, where the South Racing quintet of Ré, Alvarez, Akeel, Al-Obaidan and Marmalejo were classified in fifth, sixth, 16th, 18th and 19th. De Sousa Batista and Al-Thefiri topped the T4 times for South Racing and Pons and Koolen were fifth and sixth.
Dias pipped Portela to the fastest T3 time on the afternoon’s stage and the Portuguese headed into the night halt with a T3 advantage of 5.3 seconds. Ré was the best of the South Racing team drivers in third and was only 1min 29sec off the lead heading into the second day. Alvarez, Akeel and Al-Obaidan were sixth, 10th and 14th after Araújo’s retirement, with Alvarez admitting he lost some time with dust issues.
Ré said: « It was a stage to learn a bit of the car because it’s the first time we are driving the larger car (T3). We tried to keep it safe. It has been a busy year professionally but I hope to do the championship again next year. I prefer rain but it has been dust in many places so far. »
Al-Thefiri delivered an excellent performance to top the T4 times and move to the top of the rankings. The Kuwaiti led the category by 22.7 seconds from Valeiša, with Pons and de Sousa Batista in third and fifth on the return to Portalegre and Koolen holding seventh.
Al-Thefiri said: « Leading the category. I like the stages. It’s like ERC and WRC terrain. Everything is okay and now we focus on the long day tomorrow. »
The meat of the timed competition took place on Saturday with passes through a modified stage of 179.64km and a demanding 204.66km finale along narrow rural Portuguese tracks, where inclement weather conditions can completely alter the course of the event. The shorter stage started in Ponte de Sor and finished in Alter de Chão, with the final test starting in Nisa and finishing in Portalegre.
After Araújo’s retirement, Ré was the first of the South Racing drivers to fall by the wayside in the first of the day’s stages where Dias claimed the T3 stage win from Portela and came home third of all the drivers. Akeel delivered a stunning drive to finish the stage in fourth and she moved up to sixth in the T3 rankings behind fifth-placed Alvarez. Al-Obaidan and Marmolejo were classified in 12th and 13th.
De Sousa Batista topped the T4 times and set the fifth quickest of all the drivers to snatch a 6min 40.5sec advantage over Al-Thefiri to take to the final stage. Pons came home in third to give South Racing a potential clean sweep of the podium places. Koolen climbed to sixth after Valeiša retired.
But a late retirement for Pons opened the door for Koolen to climb to fourth e in T4 and a superb run by De Sousa Batista, despite heavy rain and muddy on-stage conditions, sealed the win and ensured that Al-Thefiri had to settle for second place. Alvarez confirmed third in T3 with Dias winning the category in a South Racing-built Can-Am.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia hosts round seven of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas in mid- November.
Baja Portalegre 500 – FIA T3 final standings
1. João Dias (PRT)/João Miranda (PRT) Can-Am Maverick X3, 5hr 44min 18.3sec
2. Luís Portela de Morais (PRT)/Tomás Dantas (PRT) OT3, 5hr 48min 23.2sec
3. Fernando Alvarez (ESP)/Xavier Panseri (FRA) South Racing Can-Am Maverick XRS, 6hr 20min 05.0sec
4. Aloísio Monteiro (PRT)/Eduardo Oiteiro (PRT) Can-Am Maverick X3, 6hr 20min 30.9sec
5. Filipe Nascimento (PRT)/João Fernandez Serodio (PRT) Can-Am Maverick X3, 6hr 26min 57.0sec
6. Jorge Cardosa (PRT)/André Barras (PRT) Can-Am Maverick X3, 6hr 27min 44.6sec
7. Dania Akeel (SAU)/Laurent Lichtleuchter (FRA) South Racing Can-Am Maverick XRS, 6hr 29min 17.4sec
8. Pau Navarro (ESP)/Michael Metge (FRA) Can-Am Maverick X3, 6hr 46min 12.5sec
9. Filipe Carvalho (PRT)/Paulo Torres (PRT) PRK Sport, 002 6hr 47min 53.4sec
10. Mashael Al-Obaidan (SAU)/François Cazalet (FRA) South Racing Can-Am Maverick XRS, 7hr 09min 59.6sec
12. António Marmolejo (COL)/Xavier Montasell (ESP) South Racing Can-Am Maverick XRS, 7hr 39min 48.5sec
Alexandre Ré (PRT)/João Pedro Ré (PRT) South Racing Can-Am Maverick XRS, DNF
Baja Portalegre 500 – FIA T4 final standings
1. Cristiano Batista (BRA)/Fauto Mota (PRT) South Racing Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR, 6hr 00min 26.0sec
2. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Oriol Vidal (ESP) South Racing Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR, 6hr 11min 27.3sec
3. Tomasz Bialkowski (POL)/Dariusz Baskiewicz (POL) Polaris RZR Pro XP, 6hr 12min 03.5sec
4. Kees Koolen (NLD)/Paolo Ceci (ITA) South Racing Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR, 6hr 26min 02.2sec
5. Ricardo Filipe de Oliveira (PRT)/Ana Charrua de Oliveira (PRT) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR, 6hr 28min 00.2sec
6. João Paula (PRT)/Nuno Mota Ribeiro (PRT) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR, 7hr 34min 14.4sec
Eduard Pons (ESP)/Mónica Plaza Vasquez (ESP) South Racing Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR, DNF
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