Al-Rajhi cedes stage win to Ferreira but triumphs at Hail Toyota International Rally for seventh time

– Mohammed Al-Balooshi and Haitham Al-Tuwaijri win bike and quad categories
– Saleh Al-Saif wins overall Challenger class; Fernando Alvarez on top in SSVs

Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk were pushed all the way over the final 164km stage of the Hail Toyota International Rally 2024 (Saudi Baja) but managed to secure victory by just 38 seconds in their Toyota Hilux on Saturday morning.

Portugal’s João Ferreira and Filipe Palmeiro claimed the stage win in their X-Raid Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus and managed to move ahead of Al-Rajhi’s Overdrive Racing team-mates Rokas Baciuška and Oriol Vidal and snatch second place.

Al-Rajhi is now the joint most successful competitor in the event’s history with seven wins with five different car manufacturers. This year’s feat equalled quad rider Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi’s feat of seven victories between 2014 and 2021. Gottschalk won the event for the fourth time after partnering Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah to success in 2011 and Al-Rajhi in 2015 and 2016.

Al-Rajhi said: « I am very happy. Very enjoyable rally and my seventh win. It’s always nice to win here. I never expected that I would become a Baja or a cross-country specialist but my first win here opened my eyes to this kind of racing. I enjoy it a lot. Now I am going from the dunes to the Alps for some skiing…and then I will return to racing for the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. »

« We are happy to open the season with a victory in Hail, » said Gottschalk. « That is especially important for Yazeed. We had strong competition around us. It was not easy. We made a good gap on the first day but we knew it would not be easy to open today. Sometimes we had no lines at all and there were tracks going in all directions. You really had to be awake. We could not go slow. It was a nice rally. »

Ferreira added: « It was a very enjoyable race. I am not a specialist on dunes and in sand. The competition was very good and I gained a lot of experience from being here. » The X-Raid Team made some changes to the Mini’s set-up overnight and revised suspension settings enabled the Portuguese to push a lot harder on the last stage.

Argentina’s Juan Cruz Yacopini and his Spanish co-driver Daniel Oliveras were second fastest this morning and came home in fourth overall on the opening round of the FIA World and Middle East Baja Cups hosted by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF).

Multiple former T3 winner Saleh Al-Saif has only been beaten once on this event since 2020 and the Saudi overcame an early scare and stormed to victory in the Challenger category in his G Rally Team OT3. Partnered by Qatar’s Nasser Al-Kuwari, he finished fifth overall and 11min 41sec clear of his nearest rival João Dias in the Santag Racing Can-Am Maverick. Al-Saif was also the top finisher in the FIA Middle East Baja Cup, while Dias topped the FIA World Baja Cup standings.

Dubai-based Alliyah Koloc teamed up with Frenchman Sébastien Delaunay and guided her Red-lined Revo+ to seventh overall and second place amongst the contenders registered for the FIA Middle East Baja Cup.

The fifth quickest time on the final stage enabled Dania Akeel to displace her former Can-Am team-mate Fernando Alvarez and snatch eighth on her first appearance in an Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux. The Saudi was third of the FIA Middle East Cup contenders and collected valuable points for the Saudi Toyota Rally Championship.

Alvarez and his co-driver Xavier Panseri secured ninth in their South Racing Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR and topped the SSV category. Spaniard Alexander Toril Boquoi finished second and Qatar’s Ahmed Al-Kuwari was third and first of the FIA Middle East Baja Cup contenders. Front drive shaft woes on the opening stage ruined Amerigo Ventura’s chances in his Yamaha.

Fuel pump issues on day one ruined Eduardo Pons’s chance of pushing for Challenger honours in his Taurus T3 Max.

Local driver Majed Al-Thunayyan guided his Nissan Patrol to a useful finish and FIA Middle East Baja Cup points in the Stock category for series production cross-country vehicles.

Mohammed Al-Balooshi rode cautiously to set the fourth quickest time on the last morning but did enough to seal a fourth victory in Hail since 2020 on the opening round of the FIM Bajas World Cup. The MX Ride Dubai man finished the stage 4min 34sec behind Saudi Abdulhalim Al-Mogheera but won the event by 2min 12sec on his KTM from his Kuwaiti team-mate Abdullah Al-Shatti. The stage win ensured that Al-Mogheera finished third ahead of Emirati Hamdan Al-Ali.

Al-Balooshi said: « I am very happy to win this rally for the fourth time. I have a perfect record here in Saudi. I have never lost here. Today was very tricky. It was an easy stage but so simple to make a stupid mistake. Our strategy was to bring the bike to the finish line and secure the win. With that we lead the world rankings. I am also proud that the top three are GCC riders, me from the Emirates, Abdullah from Kuwait and Abdulhalim from Saudi Arabia. I am proud to have an all-Arab podium. »

Jordanian Abdullah Abu Aisheh lost vital minutes on the last stage and slipped to sixth place after he received a 15-minute penalty for a route violation. That gifted fifth place to Spaniard Pedro Bianchi Prata after he had overhauled German Open class rider Philip Horlemann. Bahrain’s Salman Farhan came home in eighth and Qatar-based Australian Martin Chalmers and fellow countryman Andrew Houlihan rounded off the top 10.

Haitham Al-Tuwaijri cruised to his third successive victory in the quad category in Hail. The Yamaha Raptor 700 rider finished 1hr 05min 15sec ahead of Hani Al-Noumesi in his successful quest for FIM Bajas World Cup points. Abdulaziz Al-Shayban finished third.

Abdulaziz Al-Yaeesh (Nissan) won the Saudi National Baja and picked up vital points towards the four-round Saudi Toyota Rally Championship on a stage where runner-up Faris Al-Moshana (Nissan) set the fastest time.

Hail Toyota International Rally 2024 (Saudi Baja) – Positions after SS2 (unofficial @ 15.05hrs):
1. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Toyota Hilux Overdrive, 4hr 28min 53sec*
2. João Ferreira (PRT)/Filipe Palmeiro (PRT) Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus, 4hr 29min 31sec*
3. Rokas Baciuška (LTU)/Oriol Vidal (ESP) Toyota Hilux Overdrive, 4hr 30min 02sec*
4. Juan Cruz Yacopini (ARG)/Daniel Oliveras (ESP) Toyota Hilux Overdrive, 4hr 35min 21sec*
5. Saleh Al-Saif (SAU)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) G Rally Team OT3, 4hr 47min 50sec+
6. João Dias (BRA)/João Miranda (PRT) Can-Am Maverick X3, 4hr 59min 31sec*
7. Aliyyah Koloc (ARE)/Sébastien Delaunay (FRA) Red-Lined Revo+, 5hr 00min 43sec+
8. Dania Akeel (SAU)/Stéphane Duplé (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 5hr 08min 02sec+
9. Fernando Alvarez (ESP)/Xavier Panseri (FRA) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR, 5hr 13min 31sec*
10. Diego Martinez (ARG)/Sergio Lafuente (URY) Can-Am Maverick X3, 5hr 23min 52sec*
11. Alexander Toril Boquoi (ESP)/Pedro Chaves (ESP) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR, 5hr 28min 14sec*
12. Pal Lonyai (HUN)/Dmytro Tsyro (UKR) Yamaha YXZ 1000R Turbo, 5hr 31min 37sec
13. Ahmed Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Manuel Lucchese (ITA) Yamaha YXZ 1000 R SS, 5hr 39min 29sec+
14. Annett Quandt (DEU)/Annie Seel (SWE) Yamaha YXZ 1000R Turbo, 5hr 39min 44sec
15. Luis Henderson (URY)/Bruno Jacomy (ARG) Polaris RZR Pro R, 5hr 42min 32sec*
16. Hamad Al-Harbi (SAU)/Aleksei Kuzmich (ARE) Can-Am Maverick X3, 5hr 48min 18sec+
17. Maha Al-Hamali (SAU)/Oriol Mena (ESP) Can-Am Maverick X3, 6hr 01min 35sec+
18. Khalid Al-Jafla (ARE)/Andrei Rudnitski (LTU) Can-Am Maverick X3, 6hr 19min 29sec*
19. Moaaz Al-Hariri (SAU)/Tariq Al-Rammah (SAU) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR, 6hr 25min 27sec+
20. Atif Al-Zarouni (ARE)/Mohammed Innab (SAU) Yamaha YXZ 1000 R, 6hr 26min 12sec+
21. Ibrahim Al-Muhanna (SAU)/Faisal Al-Suwayh (SAU) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR, 6hr 26min 14sec*
22. Bradley Salazar (ECU)/Marco Guerron Coronel (ECU) Can-Am Maverick X3, 6hr 27min 51sec*
23. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Michael Metge (FRA) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR, 6hr 49min 54sec+, etc
*registered for FIA World Baja Cup
+registered for FIA Middle East Baja Cup

1. Mohammed Al-Balooshi (ARE) KTM Rally Replica, 7hr 00min 22sec
2. Abdullah Al-Shatti (KWT) Husqvarna Rally, 7hr 02min 34sec
3. Abdulhalim Al-Mogheera (SAU) KTM 450 CC, 7hr 13min 29sec
4. Hamdan Al-Ali (ARE) Husqvarna FE450, 7hr 17min 12sec
5. Pedro Bianchi Prata (PRT) Honda CRF 450RX, 7hr 37min 13sec
6. Abdullah Abu Aisheh (JOR) GasGas MC 450, 7hr 40min 29sec
7. Philip Horlemann (DEU) Husqvarna FE501 (Open), 7hr 42min 42sec
8. Salman Farhan (BHR) Husqvarna FE, 7hr 46min 50sec
9. Martin Chalmers (AUS) GasGas 450 Rally Replica, 7hr 53min 01sec
10. Andrew Houlihan (AUS) Husqvarna 450 FR, 7hr 57min 36sec
11. Ehab Al-Hakeem (SAU) Yamaha WR450 F, 8hr 04min 18sec
12. Eid Rafic (LBN) Husqvarna FE450, 8hr 33min 46sec
13. Ahmed Al-Jaber (SAU) KTM 450 CC, 9hr 13min 14sec
14. Jason Paul Joslin (GBR) Husqvarna FE, 9hr 40min 05sec, etc

1. Haitham Al-Tuwaijri (SAU) Yamaha Raptor 700, 7hr 39min 15sec
2. Hani Al-Noumesi (SAU) Yamaha Raptor 700, 8hr 44min 40sec
3. Abdulaziz Al-Shayban (SAU) Yamaha Raptor 700, 9hr 05min 40sec
4. Abdulaziz Al-Atawi (SAU) Yamaha Raptor 700, ` 10hr 24min 18sec

Neil Perkins,