Overdrive Racing’s Al-Rajhi secures his seventh career victory in Ha’il

– Baciuška, Yacopini and Akeel finish third, fourth and eighth overall

Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi and his German co-driver Timo Gottschalk were pushed hard all the way over the final 164km stage of the Saudi Baja through the An-Nafud desert but managed to secure victory by just 38 seconds in their Toyota Hilux.

Portugal’s João Ferreira claimed the stage win and managed to move ahead of Al-Rajhi’s Overdrive Racing team-mates Rokas Baciuška and Oriol Vidal and snatch second place on the opening round of the FIA World Baja Cup hosted by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF). Baciuška duly claimed his first podium finish since switching to the Ultimate class with Toyota.

Al-Rajhi is now the most successful competitor in the event’s history with seven wins. 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. »

Argentina’s Juan Cruz Yacopini and his Spanish co-driver Daniel Oliveras were second fastest on the last stage and came home in fourth overall.

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

After a useful test session in the build up to the event, the Overdrive Racing quartet tackled a slippery Prologue stage of 6.25km to determine the starting order for the first of two selective sections through the An-Nafud desert.

Al-Rajhi is bidding to retain his national title and win the FIA World Bajas Cup and he clocked a time of 4min 28sec on the slippery opening test. That was sufficient to beat Baciuška by eight seconds. Yacopini came home in fourth but Akeel began cautiously and was classified at the rear of the field in 32nd place after making a navigational error on the stage.

The Saudi said: « It was a nice fast track, like a circuit, and it was easy to manage the weight of the car. I had a good time. But we had a mistake on one of the turns and had to do a loop and come back. This meant we lost about a minute. But we have a long way to go and we can make that up on a long stage. »

The opening stage started at the village of Qina to the northwest of Ha’il and ran for 302km. The times on the Prologue were not added to the general classification but Al-Rajhi finished the special 4min 10sec quicker than Baciuška. Yacopini guided the third of the Overdrive cars to fourth overall and Akeel started the stage well down the running order after delays on the Prologue. She climbed to ninth on her first true desert stage in the Toyota.

« It was a lot of fun, » said Dania. « We had nice sand dunes and then open fast track. We had an issue with a broken front-left driveshaft. I think because I had my foot on the throttle in the air! So, we lost about 20 to 25 minutes changing that and then we continued. »

Al-Rajhi carded the fourth quickest time on the final stage behind Ferreira, Yacopini and Baciuška, but he did enough to seal a narrow victory and get his challenge for honours in the FIA World Baja Cup off to the perfect start.

Round two takes crews to Baja Greece on May 23rd-25th.

2024 Saudi Baja – result:
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*
*registered for FIA World Cup
+registered for FIA Middle East Cup