– Minor skiing accident in France forces Yazeed Al-Rajhi out of Saudi Baja
– Al-Attiyah, Yacopini and Holowczyc go head-to-head in Saudi desert
– Defending champions Fernando Alvarez and Cristiano Batista top T3 and T4 classes
Saudi Baja-Hail, the opening round of the 2023 FIA World and Middle East Cups for Cross-Country Bajas, the FIM Bajas World Cup and the Saudi Toyota National Rally Championship, gets underway from the Maghwat conference facility on the outskirts of Hail on Thursday afternoon.
A three-day route through the deserts surrounding the north-central city features a varied and challenging course, consisting of 85% open desert, 10% gravel and dirt tracks and 5% sand dunes in the An Nafud.
The approved final 34-car FIA entry list features six modified T1 cars, seven T2 series-production cross-country machines, 10 T3 lightweight prototypes and 11 T4 entrants. There is also a National Baja running behind the main event for mainly local crews.
The major news on Tuesday was the unfortunate withdrawal of local favourite and defending champion Yazeed Al-Rajhi. The Saudi sustained a minor chest injury after an accident on a recent skiing vacation at Courchevel in France and has been suffering from pain on the right side of his chest. On Tuesday evening, the Riyadh driver confirmed that he had sustained a hairline fracture in his right fifth rib and incurred minor cartilage damage in the fall.
He said: « Despite wanting to take part in the Baja in Hail, I felt severe chest pain this morning (Tuesday), so I had to go back to my doctor and have more tests done. Initially, I was not diagnosed with broken ribs but I was diagnosed with edema (swelling caused by fluid trapped in body tissue), which caused the continuous pain. The doctors advised me not to take part in the rally until I get better. »
Al-Rajhi was a winner of the Hail International Rally on two occasions (2009 and 2010) with Al-Attiyah’s current co-driver Mathieu Baumel and won it again three times (2012 and 2015-2016), before adding Saudi Baja success to his tally last November.
At the head of the FIA field, the outcome will now be fought out between two Toyota Hiluxes in the hands of five-time Dakar winner Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Argentina’s Juan Cruz Yacopini and an X-raid-run Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus in the hands of Polish veteran Krzysztof Holowczyc and co-driver Lukasz Kurzeja.
Al-Attiyah was triumphant on the Hail event for the first time back in 2011 as a member of the official Volkswagen factory team and added two Baja wins with Baumel to his record in 2020 and 2021. He returns to Hail on the back of that terrific performance last month that was rewarded with a fifth Dakar win.
Yacopini and Spanish co-driver Daniel Oliveras finished seventh on this year’s Dakar and crew the second of the Toyotas.
Holowczyc also has vast experience of this motor sporting discipline after switching from special stage rallying and a distinguished career that netted him the European Rally Championship. The Pole was the winner of the 2010 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas and the 2013 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies. His best result on the Dakar Rally was third overall in an X-raid Mini behind Al-Attiyah and Giniel de Villiers in 2015.
Local T1 competition comes from Saudi Border Guard team driver Khalid Al-Feraihi and his French team-mate Sébastien Delaunay and Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri and Hani Al-Shammeri in pair of modified Nissans.
Saudi driver Yasir Seaidan has made the late switch from a T1 Toyota to drive a Race World Team Can-Am in the T3 category.
He lines up against nine talented rivals that include the defending FIA champion Fernando Alvarez, last year’s series runner-up Dania Akeel, multiple FIA MERC2 champion Meshari Al-Thefiri, local talent Saleh Al-Saif and Dutch all-rounder Kees Koolen (G Rally Team OT3), the latter driving the only non-Can-Am on the T3 entry.
Alvarez said: « This is the first round of the World Cup and this is where we won the championship last year. We made a good shakedown and everything was perfect, so we are just waiting for the start of the race. I hope to have good news at the end of the weekend. »
The 11-strong T4 entry was boosted by the late addition of Qatari driver Khalid Al-Muhannadi and his Portuguese co-driver Pedro Santos, while fellow Polaris driver Luis Maria Henderson of Argentina confirmed that Italy’s Juan Carlos Carignani will co-drive his RXR Pro R.
Amongst the favourites for victory in the category are the defending FIA champion Cristiano Batista in his South Racing Can-Am, young Pau Navarro in an FN Speed-built machine and Italy’s Michele Cinotto in one of three Xtremeplus Team Polaris RXRs.
The Baja is being managed by the Saudi Motorsport Company, in conjunction with the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF) and the Ministry of Sport. The event is running under the chairmanship of H.R.H. Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, the President of the SAMF and in partnership with Abdul Latif Jameel (ALJ) Motors.
The competitive action gets underway a three-kilometre Qualifying Stage tomorrow afternoon from 16.30hrs. That takes place after the traditional ceremonial start (16.00hrs) adjacent to the Maghwat conference facility.
2023 Saudi Baja-Hail – leading 20 entries:
201. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (AND) – Toyota Hilux Overdrive
202. Juan Cruz Yacopini (ARG)/Daniel Oliveras (ESP) – Toyota Hilux Overdrive
203. Krzysztof Holowczyc (POL)/Lukasz Kurzeja (POL) – Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus
204. Khaled Al-Feraihi (SAU)/Sébastien Delaunay (FRA) – Nissan Patrol Y61
205. Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri (SAU)/Hani Al-Shammeri (SAU) – Nissan Patrol
206. Abdullah Al-Sanad (SAU)/Abdulattif Al-Sanad (SAU) – Nissan Patrol (T2)
207. Ahmed Al-Shegawi (SAU)/Marc Serra (ESP) – Nissan Patrol (T2)
208. Majed Al-Thunayyan (SAU)/Fahad Al-Sufyani (SAU) – Nissan Patrol (T2)
209. Ibrahim bin Salman (SAU)/Mohammed Al-Dawish (SAU) – Nissan Patrol (T2)
210. Ibrahim Al-Muhanna (SAU)/Osama Al-Sanad (SAU) – Nissan Patrol (T2)
211. Khaled Al-Hamzani (SAU)/Fahad Al-Omar (SAU) – Nissan Patrol (T2)
212. Yayha Al-Halawi (SAU)/Abdulrahman Al-Halawi (SAU) – Nissan Patrol (T2)
300. Fernando Alvarez (ARG)/Xavier Panseri (FRA) – Can-Am Maverick (T3)
301. Dania Akeel (SAU)/Laurent Lichtleuchter (FRA) – Can-Am Maverick (T3)
302. Saleh Al-Saif (SAU)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) – Can-Am Maverick (T3)
303. Kees Koolen (NLD)/Wouter Rosegaar (NLD) – G Rally Team OT3 (T3)
304. Hamad Al-Harbi (SAU)/Dmytro Tsyro (UKR) – Can-Am Maverick (T3)
305. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Oriol Vidal (ESP) – Can-Am Maverick (T3)
306. Santiago Navarro (ESP)/Adrien Metge (FRA) – Can-Am Maverick (T3)
307. Diego Martinez (ES)/Sergio Lafuente (URY) – Can-Am Maverick (T3)
T1 unless stated
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