– Defending champion Al-Rajhi and five-time Dakar winner Al-Attiyah top car list
– Two-time winner Mohammed Al-Balooshi leads quality motorcycle field
A little more than two weeks since it hosted the most demanding Dakar Rally ever to be staged in Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom will play host to next weekend’s Saudi Baja-Hail, the opening round of the 2023 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas, FIM Bajas World Cup, the FIA Middle East Cup for Cross-Country Bajas and the Saudi Toyota National Rally Championship.
Managed by the Saudi Motorsport Company, in conjunction with the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF) and the Ministry of Sport, the three-day event has attracted a star quality entry across the respective car, motorcycle and quad categories.
The event is running under the chairmanship of H.R.H. Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, the President of the SAMF.
The provisional entry includes 35 FIA cars (three T1+, four T1, eight T2 and 10 T3 and 10 T4 vehicles), 31 FIM motorcycles and five quads, 30 cars in the Saudi-Hail National Baja and four additional motorcycles running in a national category.
Topping the car field is the leading Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi in the first of three Toyota Hiluxes run by Overdrive Racing. The 2022 Saudi Baja winner lines up against the recently-crowned five-time Dakar Rally winner Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and a third Overdrive Hilux for Argentina’s Juan-Cruz Yacopini.
The Race World Team’s Yasir Seaiden also reverts to a Toyota in the T1 category where Polish veteran Krzysztof Holowczyc wheels out an X-raid Mini JCW Team Rally Plus. Local drivers Khalid Al-Feraihi and Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri round off the T1 entrants.
Nissans dominate the entry for T2 showroom production vehicles, with Ahmed Al-Shegawi, Ibrahim Al-Muhanna and Abdullah Al-Sanad running three of the eight cars.
Nine Can-Am Mavericks and a solitary G Rally Team OT3 for Dutchman Kees Koolen will contest the T3 section for lightweight prototype machines. Fernando Alvarez is the defending FIA World Cup Bajas T3 champion and last year’s T3 winner in Hail: the Spaniard leads the way against the likes of Saudi Arabia’s Dania Akeel, Mashael Al-Obaidan, Saleh Al-Saif and Hamed Al-Harbi.
Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri, Spain’s Santiago Navarro and Diego Martinez and Brazil’s Otavio Sousa round off the T3 entries.
The T4 category has a truly international feel to it with last year’s Saudi Baja T4 section-winning Brazilian Cristiano Batista leading the way against rivals from Spain, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, France and Argentina. Motor sport all-rounder Saeed Al-Mouri, Abdullah Al-Shegawi and female driver Maha Al-Hamali represent the host nation.
MX Ride Dubai’s Mohammed Al-Balooshi won the motorcycle category in 2020 and 2022 and the TM 450 rider heads a strong field on two wheels. Main rivals include 2021 Hail winner Mishal Al-Ghuneim (KTM), the young Jordanian Abdullah Abu Aishah (KTM), Kuwait’s Abdullah Al-Shatti (Kawasaki) and Great Britain’s Alex McInnes (Husqvarna).
Additional riders from Australia, the UAE, Lebanon, Qatar, New Zealand, Holland, Canada and India will also take part and there are entries from female riders, Sarah Khuraibet (Husqvarna) and Sarah Kashyap (Beta).
The Saudi quartet of last year’s winner Haitham Al-Tuwaijri, Hani Al-Noumesi, Abdulaziz Al-Atawi and Sultan Al-Masoud will line-up against Emirati Abdulaziz Ahli to decide the honours in the quad category. All five riders are entered on Yamahas.
The on-stage timetable of events fires into life with a Qualifying Stage on Thursday (February 2nd) afternoon that takes place after the traditional ceremonial start.
Competitors will then tackle two demanding days of action in the neighbouring Al Nafud desert on Friday and Saturday.
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