Al-Rajhi, Al-Balooshi and Al-Tuwaijri lead Tabuk-Neom Rally after qualifying stage

– Desert action gets underway with a 205km selective section on Friday morning

Yazeed Al-Rajhi, Sultan Al-Balooshi and Haitham Al-Tuwaijri set the quickest times in the car, motorcycle and quad categories in front of huge crowds on the Qualifying Stage, held on the outskirts of Tabuk, that kickstarted the weekend’s action in the first Tabuk-Neom Rally on Thursday afternoon.

Al-Rajhi and German co-driver Timo Gottschalk stopped the clocks in 2min 42sec to win the 3.5km stage by 43 seconds in their Toyota Hilux. National championship contenders Abdulaziz Al-Yaeesh and Khalid Al-Feraihi were second and third.

Gottschalk said: « The Prologue was short but a proper stage. I was surprised. It was really rocky in some places and it was also difficult from the navigation side to see the track. The car ran fine and we took it easy because of the risk of punctures on the rocks. »

Khalid Al-Jafla topped the times in the T2 category for lightweight prototype cross-country vehicles and Maha Al-Hameli won the stage in T4.

The motorcycle times were then multiplied by a coefficient and quad category winner Haitham Al-Tuwaijri topped the overall stage times on his Yamaha Raptor, with Emirati Sultan Al-Balooshi winning the stage on two wheels from Mishal Al-Ghuneim and his brother Mohammed (Al-Balooshi).

Ibrahim Al-Muhanna was the only starter in the T5 category in his Mercedes truck.

After technical scrutineering and administration checks for the second round of the Saudi Toyota Rally Championship, 23 cars, 12 motorcycles and three quads were permitted to start the event. The car section was broken down to one T1+ machine for Al-Rajhi, seven T1 machines, six in T2, four Can-Ams in each of the T3 and T4 categories and a T5 truck.

Al-Rajhi was joined by Saudi Toyota Rally Championship leader Abdulaziz Al-Yaeesh, Khalid Al-Hamzani, Ahmed Al-Shegawi, Saleh Al-Saif, Dania Akeel, Maha Al-Hameli, Ibrahim Al-Muhanna, riders Mishal Al-Ghuneim and Mohammed Al-Balooshi and SAMF officials at the pre-event press conference earlier in the afternoon.

Crews tackled the Qualifying Stage at the start of a challenging route laid on by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF), which is running under the chairmanship of H.R.H. Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal.

The event is being held in conjunction with the Ministry of Sport and in partnership with official sponsor Abdul Latif Jameel (ALJ) Motors and strategic sponsor Saudi Investment Bank (SAIB).

Tomorrow (Friday), competitors will take a road section of 97km to the start of a 205km desert selective section, with the first car on stage at 09.00hrs.

2023 Tabuk-Neom Rally – Qualifying stage resultCars
1. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Toyota Hilux, 2min 42sec
2. Abdulaziz Al-Yaeesh (SAU)/Omar Al-Lahim (SAU) Nissan, 3min 25sec
3. Khalid Al-Feraihi (SAU)/Sébastien Delaunay (FRA) Nissan, 3min 28sec
4. Khalid Al-Jafla (ARE)/Ali Mirza (ARE) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3), 3min 32sec
5. Maha Al-Hameli (SAU)/Dmytro Tsyro (UKR) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo (T4), 3min 33sec
6. Saleh Al-Saif (SAU)/Egor Okhotnikov (ARE) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3), 3min 39sec
7. Hamad Al-Harbi (SAU)/Aleksandr Alekseev (ANA) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3), 4min 13sec
8. Ahmed Al-Shegawi (SAU)/Alexei Kuzmich (ARE) Nissan (T2), 4min 28sec
9. Dania Akeel (SAU)/Taye Perry (DEU) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3), 4min 53sec
10. Motab Al-Qnon (SAU)/Murdhi Al-Shammeri (SAU) Nissan, 4min 57sec
11. Abdullah Al-Shegawi (SAU)/Waleed Al-Shegawi (SAU) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo (T4), 5min 06sec
12. Khalid Al-Hamzani (SAU)/Fahad Al-Omar (SAU) Nissan, 5min 16sec…

1. Sultan Al-Balooshi (ARE) KTM 450, 28min 16sec
2. Mishal Al-Ghuneim (SAU) Beta 430RR, 28min 32sec
3. Mohammed Al-Balooshi (ARE) KTM 450, 29min 28sec
4. Abdulhalim Al-Mogheera (SAU) KTM 450, 29min 52sec
5. Ehab Al-Hakeem (SAU) Yamaha WR450 F, 30min 24sec
6. Mohammed Al-Kaabi (QAT) KTM 450, 31min 52sec
7. Bader Al-Hamdan (SAU) Yamaha WR450 F, 33min 52sec
8. Khalid Al-Falaisi (ARE) Husqvarna FE450, 34min 00sec
9. Ibrahim Bugla (ARE) Husqvarna FE450, 35min 04sec
10. Philip Wilson (SAU) KTM 450, 35min 20sec
11. Mohammed Manzouri (SAU) KTM 500, 41min 04sec
12. Abdulrahman Al-Abdullatif (SAU) Honda CRF 450, 2hr 30min 24sec

1. Haitham Al-Tuwaijri (SAU) Yamaha Raptor 700, 26min 00sec
2. Hani Al-Noumesi (SAU) Yamaha Raptor 700, 34min 48sec
3. Abdulaziz Al-Atawi (SAU) Yamaha Raptor 700, 38min 24sec

Neil Perkins,