Al-Rajhi wins weather-delayed opening desert stage of Djeddah Rally Toyota

– Abdulhaleem Al-Mogheera and Haitham Al-Tuwaijri win bike and quad stages
– T2, T3, T4 and T5 stage wins for Al-Omer, Al-Saif, Seaidan and Sugawara

Yazeed Al-Rajhi remained firmly on course to retain his Saudi Toyota Rally Championship title by setting the fastest time on the first 246km desert stage of Jeddah Rally Toyota 2023 on Friday.

Strong winds and shifting sand delayed the start of the second section of the day’s stage. Competitors started out as usual in the morning but safety and medical helicopters were unable to fly on safety grounds and the second part was delayed until weather conditions improved.

Driving his new Overdrive Toyota Hilux, the Saudi and German co-driver Timo Gottschalk won the day’s competitive stage by 14min 27sec and extended their advantage to 14min 38sec. The stage started in Rabigh and provided a varied challenge to the drivers and riders drawing the curtain on another season of international cross-country rallying.

‘All is good,’ said Al-Rajhi. « We take longer time because of safety but everything was going well. Me and Timo did a good job. The new car has sone evolutions but it is working well for us. This rally is a good test but it is also important to win this race. »

Al-Rajhi’s closest title rival Saleh Al-Saif kept up the pressure on the Toyota driver with the second quickest time and moved up to a similar position in the overall standings. He also headed the T3 section for lightweight prototype vehicles in his G Rally Team OT3.

Race World’s Yasir Seaidan guided his Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR to third overall and continued to lead the lightweight production T4 category. He said: « The car is new and we are testing with it for the Dakar Rally. Today’s stage was the same Dakar stage that we passed years ago, so it was an excellent test. I moved to another class (T3 to T4) but it is generally similar and I am satisfied with the experience so far. »

Argentina’s 32-year-old Nicolás Cavigliasso won the quad category at the 2019 Dakar Rally before making the switch to racing off-road vehicles. He and co-driver Valentina Pertegarini delivered a superb performance in their Wevers Sport Taurus T3 to finish the stage in fourth and second in T3. Dania Akeel rounded off the top five and held third in T3 in the second of the Wevers Sport cars.

Cavigliasso said: « I am very happy. It was a long stage but I am happy to race here. The car was perfect and the navigation was perfect, good dunes…no problems. »

Akeel said: « It was nice but we had a couple of issues. We missed the turn in the canyon and lost some time. We had one issue with the car and we stopped for a minute but it was fun. »

Lionel Baud and his daughter Lucie were sixth in their Overdrive Toyota and the Saudi quartet of T1-leading Al-Mashna Al-Ramali, Khaled Al-Feraihi, Hamad Al-Harbi and Moaz Hariri rounded off the top 10, the latter moving up to second in the T4 category ahead of Abdullah Al-Shegawi and Maha Al-Hameli.

Baud said: « It was a little bit difficult. We had to find the right way. It was a nice stage and the second part was very nice with the dunes. We have some things to do on the car. »

Al-Feraihi added: « The first 10km was rocky but we were able to pass slowly. The last section was going well but I made a mistake entering a valley with a closed end. I had to exit it by driving in reverse so I lost seven minutes. We will try to make up for it tomorrow. »

Twelfth-placed Sufian Al-Omar continued to stretch his legs out front in the T2 section for series production cross-country vehicles in his Nissan. Khaled Al-Hamzani was his closest challenger. The Japanese trio of Teruhito Sugawara, Hirokazu Someiya and Yuji Mochizuki moved clear of their rivals in the T5 truck category.

Overnight motorcycle leader Abdulhalim Al-Mogheera won the day’s stage by 1min 55sec to extend his advantage over Mishal Al-Ghuneim to 8min 20sec. Bader Al-Hamdan came home in a close third place with UAE-based Philip Horlemann in fifth behind the championship-leading Ehab Al-Hakeem.

Al-Mogheera said: « It was like a Dakar stage and would be difficult for cars and quads. Luckily, I was able to pass on two wheels. »

Al-Hamdan added: « It was a nice stage. I opened the track and I was lost twice for one kilometre but got back on the track quickly thanks to my experience at the Qassim Rally. »

Haitham Al-Tuwaijri gained the advantage over championship rival Hani Al-Noumesi in the quad category by winning the stage and building up a lead of 26min 12sec over Abdulaziz Al-Atawi. Qatar-based Belgian rider Emile Stuckens moved up to third place when Al-Noumesi dropped over half an hour on the stage and finished fourth.

Al-Tuwaijri said: « It was an excellent stage. The first 10km was rocky and I got stuck a little but, after that, everything was good and smooth. »

The event is being organised by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF) in conjunction with the Ministry of Sport, official partner Abdul Latif Jameel (ALJ) Motors and strategic partner Saudi Investment Bank (SAIB).

The competitive action concludes on Saturday with a 109km stage. This starts at the historic agricultural governorate of Khulais in the Mecca Province, northeast of Jeddah. The first motorcycle is due on stage at 08.00hrs (first car – 09.30hrs).

Jeddah Rally Toyota 2023 – Positions after SS1 (unofficial):
1. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Toyota Hilux Overdrive (T1P), 1hr 34min 38sec
2. Saleh Al-Saif (SAU)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) G Rally Team OT3 (T3), 1hr 49min 16sec
3. Yasir Seaidan (SAU)/Adrien Metge (FRA) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo (T4), 1hr 58min 10sec
4. Nicolás Cavigliasso (ARG)/Valentina Pertegarini (ARG) Can-Am Taurus T3 (T3), 1hr 58min 39sec
5. Dania Akeel (SAU)/Stéphane Duplé (FRA) Can-Am Taurus T3 (T3), 1hr 59min 04sec
6. Lionel Baud (FRA)/Lucie Baud (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive (T1P), 2hr 03min 23sec
7. Al-Mashna Al-Ramali (SAU)/Bader Al-Ajmi (SAU) Nissan (T1), 2hr 06min 35sec
8. Khaled Al-Feraihi (SAU)/Sébastien Delaunay (FRA) Nissan (T1), 2hr 06min 59sec
9. Hamad Al-Harbi (SAU)/Aleksei Kuzmich (FIA) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3), 2hr 09min 10sec
10. Moaz Hariri (SAU)/Kirill Shubin (FIA) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo (T4), 2hr 14min 48sec
11. Abdullah Al-Shegawi (SAU)/Faisal Al-Ahmari (SAU) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo (T4), 2hr 19min 37sec
12. Sufian Al-Omer (SAU)/Waleed Al-Shegawi (SAU) Nissan (T2), 2hr 23min 59sec
13. Maha Al-Hameli (SAU)/Oriol Mena (ESP) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo (T4), 2hr 25min 26sec
14. Khaled Al-Hamzani (SAU)/Fahad Al-Omar (SAU) Nissan (T2), 2hr 26min 27sec
15. Jafar Al-Qahtani (SAU)/Hussam Al-Zahrani (SAU) Nissan (T2), 2hr 29min 18sec
16. Mathilda Lauwens (ARE)/Ali Mirza (ARE) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo (T4), 2hr 36min 40sec
17. Abdullah Al-Haydan (SAU)/Sultan Al-Haydan (SAU) Nissan (T1), 2hr 48min 20sec
18. Abdulaziz Al-Yaeesh (SAU)/Omar Al-Lahim (SAU) Nissan (T1), 2hr 48min 50sec
19. Abdullah Al-Sanad (SAU)/Abdullatif Al-Sanad (SAU) Nissan (T2), 2hr 49min 07sec
20. Orjwan Ammar (SAU)/Taye Perry (DEU) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo (T4), 2hr 50min 28sec, etc

Trucks (T5)
1. Teruhito Sugawara/Hirokazu Someiya/Yuji Mochizuki (JPN) Hino 600, 5hr 22min 34sec
2. Ibrahim Al-Muhanna/Faisal Al-Suwayh/Raed Abu Theeb (SAU) Mercedes Unimog, 6hr 21min 56sec
3. Tariq Al-Rammah/Muhanad Al-Khashigi/Mohammad Al-Naasan (SAU) Volvo, 23hr 03min 55sec

1. Abdulhalim Al-Mogheera (SAU) KTM, 2hr 33min 11sec
2. Mishal Al-Ghuneim (SAU) Beta 430, 2hr 41min 31sec
3. Bader Al-Hamdan (SAU) Yamaha, 2hr 41min 50sec
4. Ehab Al-Hakeem (SAU) Yamaha, 2hr 56min 34sec
5. Philip Horlemann (ARE) Husqvarna, 2hr 57min 41sec
6. Luca Passone (SAU) Husqvarn, 4hr 07min 33sec

1. Haitham Al-Tuwaijri (SAU) Yamaha, 2hr 34min 50sec
2. Abdulaziz Al-Atawi (SAU) Yamaha, 3hr 01min 02sec
3. Emiel Stuckens (QAT) Yamaha, 3hr 08min 11sec
4. Hani Al-Noumesi (SAU) Yamaha, 3hr 08min 21sec
5. Abdulrahman Alabdullatif (SAU) Yamaha, 26hr 25min 36sec

Neil Perkins,