Overdrive Racing’s Miura and Al Rajhi finish third and Seventh at demanding Baja Greece

Overdrive Racing’s debutant Akira Miura and regular front-runner Yazeed Al-Rajhi finished third and seventh in Baja Greece, the second round of the FIA World Baja Cup that finished in Argos Orestiko on Saturday afternoon.

Miura is better known for his Dakar achievements in the T2 or Stock category for series production cross-country machines, but he adopted well to the extra power and superior handling of the Toyota Hilux in the Ultimate class and reached the finish in a fine third place with French co-driver Jean-Michel Polato and topped the class standings.

Miura, who has been a regular face on the Dakar Rally since 2007 and won the T2 class in 2018, 2021 and 2022 with the Toyota Auto Body Team, said: « We won! I am incredibly happy. This was my first time in Greece and the first time I competed in the T1 (Ultimate) class in my rally career. The car was so different to T2, very fast and controllable but I still need to understand this car better and improve my skills. Next is Qatar (Baja) but I consider today a new starting point and I’ll continue to work hard.
« I had a very favourable impression of this country. I did a brief test before the Baja and we also worked with the Toyo Tires Open Country MTR, a prototype tyre developed specifically for the T1 class for the first time. We were using new tyres and we had only been able to test on sandy surfaces before now. Testing on these hard gravel surfaces has provided valuable data for the engineers. While they wear out quickly on hard surfaces, if we can enhance the durability on gravel and maintain the performance on sand, they could become competitive tyres for Dakar. I’m excited about this. »

Al-Rajhi and his German co-driver Timo Gottschalk are challenging for overall honours in the FIA World Baja Cup this season but their campaign suffered a slight setback after serious brake issues cost the duo 45 minutes on the opening stage. An overheating scare forced them to drive cautiously on the second one but they recovered well on the final day to climb from 12th to finish seventh and third in the Ultimate class, despite a flat tyre on stage three.

Al-Rajhi said: « We are happy to come to the race and enjoy the first time this race was in the World Cup. The stages were very narrow. The first stage was unlucky for us. We broke the disc and stopped and took the tyre off and took time to see what was going on. With the disc off, all the fluid was out and we had no brakes and we kept going slowly. We win the last day. That’s the important. »

The route was modified slightly before the start. Competitors tackled a 6.08km Prologue to determine the starting order but the opening day was shortened to two passes through a Mesopotamia stage of 151.31km and preceded a second selective section of 228.94km (two runs of 114.47km).

Al-Rajhi beat João Ferreira by 5.2 seconds to claim the fastest time on the Prologue and gave himself the first choice of starting position for the opening stage. Miura came home in sixth.

The first stage offered a variety of narrow roads, mountain tracks and numerous corners and was particularly tricky. Ghislain De Mévius clocked the fastest time to lead the rally and Miura slotted into fifth overall but Al-Rajhi suffered serious brake issues, dropped 45 minutes and slipped to 15th place.

Gottschalk said: « It was a very nice stage, a proper WRC stage in the mountains with lots of turns and blind corners. We were struggling from the beginning with the brakes. Yazeed has to pump a lot to get a feeling and I think they were getting very hot in these conditions and, with some water crossings, I think we cracked a brake disc and, after 80-90km, we lost the brakes completely. We had to stop and investigate but could not fix it and we had to go for 50km without any brake. It was quite scary downhill, a lot of turns just to brake with the engine. But we survived. »

Miura added: « It was a very mountainous and twisty narrow stage with some slippery sections making it quite risky. There weren’t any major issues along the way, although the wipers stopped working, which might have cost us three or four minutes. »

Miura and Al-Rajhi came home in fifth and seventh places on the re-run of the stage and slotted into third and 12th overall at the overnight halt. Spaniard Eduardo Pons led the event outright from former Overdrive Racing regular Lionel Baud.

Miura said: « I had a much better unity in the car in the afternoon. We had one flat tyre and a wiper issue, which cost us five or six minutes but we were able to increase our pace without pushing too hard. »

Al-Rajhi added: « The mechanics fixed our car and the brakes at the midday service. It was not perfect with our heavy car and the tough conditions. But, we suffered some different problems with the engine temperature and we had to stop two times to check the water level and to release some pressure to get the temperature down. That’s why we lost more time. »

The first pass through the Mavrokampos stage netted a third fastest time for Al-Rajhi, despite a puncture, and the seventh quickest for Miura. He slipped a place to third, albeit just one second behind Miroslav Zapletal, and Al-Rajhi climbed to 10th.

Miura said: « The stage included some very fast downhill sections. We started third and the surface was not clearing, making it very slippery. I made sure to be careful in those areas. »

Gottschalk added: « This stage was nicer with an open valley. We had a good pace, struggling still with the brakes, but we also had a puncture and we had to change the tyre. »

An impressive final stage run enabled Miura to overhaul Zapletal and regain third place and a podium finish on his debut with Overdrive Racing. Al-Rajhi carded the fastest time and moved up to seventh but the damage had been done to his victory challenge on Friday.

Round three takes crews to Teruel for the Baja Spain Aragón on July 26th-28th.

2024 Baja Greece – final result:
1. Eduardo Pons (ESP)/Jaume Betriu (ESP) Taurus T3 Max, 7hr 50min 46.4sec
2. Lionel Baud (FRA)/Lucie Baud (FRA) G Rally Team OT3, 8hr 03min 51.6sec*
3. Akira Miura (JPN)/Jean-Michel Polato (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive, 8hr 07min 53.8sec
4. Miroslav Zapletal (CZE)/Marek Sykora (SVK) Ford F-150 Evo, 8hr 08min 32.9sec
5. Csaba Miklos (HUN)/Albert Horn (HUN) Taurus T3 Max, 8hr 27min 33.6sec*
6. Fernando Alvarez (ARG)/Xavier Panseri (FRA) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR, 8hr 29min 13.9sec
7. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Toyota Hilux Overdrive, 8hr 43min 50.2sec
8. Miguel Toril (ESP)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR, 8hr 44min 38.8sec
9. Diego Martinez (ARG)/Sergio Lafuente (URY) Can-Am Maverick X3, 8hr 50min 59.7sec
10. Khalid Al-Jafla (ARE)/Andrei Rudnitski (LTU) Can-Am Maverick X3, 9hr 13min 22.9sec
11. Claude Fournier (FRA)/Serge Gounon (FRA) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR, 9hr 22min 38.6sec
12. Ghislain de Mévius (BEL)/Johan Jalet (BEL) G Rally Team OT3, 10hr 25min 09.0sec
13. João Ferreira (PRT)/Filipe Palmeiro (PRT) Can-Am Maverick X3, 11hr 22min 55.1sec
*not registered for FIA World Cup

Neil Perkins,