Al-Rajhi and Gottschalk carve their way into big Tabuk-Neom Rally lead

– Mohammed Al-Balooshi and Hani Al-Noumesi top bike and quad standings

Yazeed Al-Rajhi and German co-driver Timo Gottschalk stormed into a comfortable 19min 28sec lead after the opening 205km stage of the Tabuk-Neom Rally in northern Saudi Arabia on Friday.

The Toyota Hilux crew carded a time of 1hr 58min 57sec for the scenic passage through desert terrain without hitting any problems during the course of the morning.

Al-Rajhi said: « It was a good day and everything is going well. Timo did a great job, like always. We opened the stage and enjoyed it. We pushed because we want to win every stage after I missed the event in Ha’il when I was injured. It was fast and slippery in places. »

Emirati rider Mohammed Al-Balooshi got the better of his brother Sultan to win the motorcycle stage by 3min 04sec and open up a lead of 1min 52sec. Mishal Al-Ghuneim opened the road and came home in third place on his Beta. The trio were the class of the field and finished well clear of fourth-placed Badr Al-Hamdan.

Mohammed Al-Balooshi said: « It was an awesome day. The weather was much cooler than yesterday but it took me 30 to 40km to get into the rhythm. I knew the task was to catch the boys ahead and I made the time. My goal was to come here and get seat time and experience and capitalise on this great event. First and second for me and my bro was icing on the cake. »

Al-Ghuneim added: « Today was a beautiful stage, very well balanced and a lot of navigation needed. It was one of the most beautiful stages since the Saudi Championship started. I started first and opened the stage and kept the lead until the last 20km when Mohammed and Sultan Al-Balooshi caught me and we rode the last 20km together to the finish. I am hoping to start third tomorrow and that works out pretty good and I have them in front of me. I have a chance to catch up to them. »

Can-Am Maverick X3 driver Dania Akeel was Al-Rajhi’s closest challenger and led the T3 category for lightweight prototype cross-country vehicles in a stunning second overall. Saleh Al-Saif was a close third in his T3 Can-Am and Khalid Al-Feraihi held fourth.

Akeel said: « It was lovely. A really nice stage with beautiful views. The navigation was tricky but it was okay. We are second, wow. That’s not bad! »

« It was an interesting and demanding stage for driving and navigating, which gave us an advantage with our experience, especially in Dakar, » said Saleh Al-Saif. « We had a broken axle at the back, so we drove cautiously to the end. With a decent time tomorrow, we will try to close the gap to second. Our aim is top three overall. »

Al-Feraihi added: « A good day. I am fourth and everything is running okay but the engine does not sound great. »

Khalid Al-Jafla held fifth place and current Saudi Toyota Championship leader Abdulaziz Al-Yaeesh rounded off the top six. Tenth-placed Maha Al-Hameli led the T4 section in her Can-Am. Abdullah Al-Shegawi retired his Can-Am on the way to the stage with gearbox issues and will not continue.

Overnight quad leader Haitham Al-Tuwaijri suffered technical issues on his Yamaha Raptor and that opened the door for Hani Al-Noumesi to lead the category from Abdulaziz Al-Atawi. Al-Noumesi said: « Nice stage and a wonderful landscape. We ran perfectly but it was a challenging route. We are happy to be leading. »

The event is being organised by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF) 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 (Saturday), there is a second shorter selective section of 136.00km before a return to Tabuk for the post-event press conference (17.30hrs) and the prize giving ceremony at King Khalid Sport City from 20.00hrs.

2023 Tabuk-Neom Rally – positions after SS1
1. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Toyota Hilux, 2hr 01min 39sec
2. Dania Akeel (SAU)/Taye Perry (DEU) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3), 2hr 21min 07sec
3. Saleh Al-Saif (SAU)/Egor Okhotnikov (ARE) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3), 2hr 22min 36sec
4. Khalid Al-Feraihi (SAU)/Sébastien Delaunay (FRA) Nissan, 2hr 26min 30sec
5. Khalid Al-Jafla (ARE)/Ali Mirza (ARE) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3), 2hr 29min 53sec
6. Abdulaziz Al-Yaeesh (SAU)/Omar Al-Lahim (SAU) Nissan, 2hr 32min 11sec
7. Hamad Al-Harbi (SAU)/Aleksandr Alekseev (ANA) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3), 2hr 37min 12sec
8. Oiad Al-Ramali (SAU)/Khalid Al-Ramali (SAU) Toyota, 2hr 39min 34sec
9. Motab Al-Qnon (SAU)/Murdhi Al-Shammeri (SAU) Nissan, 2hr 45min 10sec
10. Maha Al-Hameli (SAU)/Dmytro Tsyro (UKR) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo (T4), 2hr 49min 11sec

1. Mohammed Al-Balooshi (ARE) KTM 450, 3hr 01min 30sec
2. Sultan Al-Balooshi (ARE) KTM 450, 3hr 03min 32sec
3. Mishal Al-Ghuneim (SAU) Beta 430RR, 3hr 11min 23sec
4. Bader Al-Hamdan (SAU) Yamaha WR450 F, 3hr 21min 18sec
5. Abdulhalim Al-Mogheera (SAU) KTM 450, 3hr 21min 27sec
6. Ehab Al-Hakeem (SAU) Yamaha WR450 F, 3hr 24min 19sec
7. Philip Wilson (SAU) KTM 450,rna FE450, 3hr 40min 46sec
8. Khalid Al-Falaisi (ARE) Husqvarna FE450, 3hr 35min 26sec
9. Ibrahim Bugla (ARE) Husqvarna FE450, 3hr 40min 46sec
10. Mohammed Al-Kaabi (QAT) KTM 450, 4hr 13min 03sec
11. Mohammed Manzouri (SAU) KTM 500, 4hr 41min 26sec
12. Abdulrahman Al-Abdullatif (SAU) Honda CRF 450, 32hr 15min 24sec

1. Hani Al-Noumesi (SAU) Yamaha Raptor 700, 3hr 57min 14sec
2. Abdulaziz Al-Atawi (SAU) Yamaha Raptor 700, 4hr 40min 29sec
3. Haitham Al-Tuwaijri (SAU) Yamaha Raptor 700, 5hr 49min 52sec

Neil Perkins,