Haitham Al-Tuwaijri retains his Saudi Baja quad title on a Yamaha
Saudi’s Saleh Al-Saif and Spaniard Pau Navarro win FIA T3 and T4 categories
Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Emirati rider Mohammed Al-Balooshi confirmed victories in the car and motorcycle categories at the 2023 Saudi Baja-Hail on Saturday.
The overnight leading Toyota Hilux star and his French co-driver Mathieu Baumel were fastest on the second 184km selective section on a chilly Saturday morning and sealed victory by the winning margin of 15min 19sec on the opening round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas.
Al-Balooshi came home in fifth place on the day’s motorcycle stage – with the day’s win falling to Canada’s Jonathan Finn – but the MX Ride Dubai rider had done enough to clinch the win on the opening round of the FIM Bajas World Cup by 21min 09sec.
Saudi rider Haitham Al-Tuwaijri overhauled first day leader Abdulaziz Ahli to snatch quad success, while Saudi Can-Am driver Saleh Al-Saif won the FIA T3 section for lightweight prototype vehicles and young Spaniard Pau Navarro prevailed in the FIA T4 class.
Al-Attiyah had taken a 7min 42sec lead into the final day, once a series of time penalties had been imposed on several of his rivals, and the Toyota driver won the second stage by 5min 27sec to continue his dominant start to the season in the cross-country rallying discipline and follow up a fifth Dakar triumph with more Saudi success.
Al-Attiyah said: “This is a good start. We were happy to compete here and to win here another time. The target now is Abu Dhabi, where we will face Loeb and the Audis. All good over the last two days, no problems.”
Polish rival Krzysztof Holowczyc was second quickest in his X-raid Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus with co-driver Lukasz Kurzeja and did enough to finish as runner-up on his first desert rally for eight years.
The Pole said: “The beginning was not so easy. We were last on the Prologue and I am used to be fighting for the win. We finished second although it is not easy to understand the regulations sometimes. I am happy to finish second. We were testing some new things on the car and that was important for us. The car is getting faster and we will find more in the next races. The suspension is unbelievable. I saw a big hole and the was flying, perfect. This is the advantage of T1+. We have a good car for the next races.”
Al-Attiyah’s Toyota team-mate Juan Cruz Yacopini recovered strongly from a collision with a spectator’s car at the end of Friday’s stage and had been reinstated in third overall by rally officials before the start of the final day. The Argentine took full advantage of the Stewards’ decision to reimburse him with 15 lost minutes and he and Spanish navigator Daniel Oliveras were third quickest to confirm the final place on the podium.
Yacopini said: “After what happened yesterday, today was a really good stage. I feel really comfortable. The navigation was not easy but Dani made it perfectly. The car was perfect also and third place is my first podium in the Bajas. Now I go to Abu Dhabi in the next two weeks. It is a perfect warm-up.”
On-stage delays for Yasir Seaidan enabled Team Black Horse Can-Am driver Al-Saif to snatch fourth overall and the T3 win from his fellow countryman by just nine seconds. Defending champion Fernando Alvarez came home in sixth overall, third in the class and picked up T3 points for second in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas.
Al-Saif’s co-driver Nasser Al-Kuwari was competing in Hail for the first time. The Qatari said: “I am proud of this result. I missed the people, the stages and the rally here in the past. After 40km, it was a tricky place and we saw Yasir coming from the opposite way, lost. We let him pass and we drive behind for about 100km. Then we stopped to change the belt, cut every corner to reach the finish and we won by nine seconds! It was really close.”
A frustrated Seaidan claimed maximum points in the FIA Middle East Cup. He said: “We were unlucky. We lost our way in one part and we lost three minutes and a half. Then we pushed and took two minutes but we finished second by nine seconds...”
Young Spaniard Pau Navarro and his French co-driver Michael Metge were second quickest in T4 on the day, but that result was sufficient for the FN Speed Team Can-Am driver to clinch T4 success and seventh overall. Brazilian Cristiano Batista won the day’s stage but suffered massive time penalties after crashing and running his Can-Am on three wheels on Friday.
Behind eighth-placed local driver Dania Akeel, the French duo of Jeremie Warnier and Loic Minaudier were second in T4 and ninth overall in a Polaris RXR Pro R. Brazil’s Otavio Sousa rounded off the top 10 and finished fifth in T3.
Local favourite Khalid Al-Feraihi is taking part in the FIA Middle East Cup for Cross Country Bajas but suffered long delays and time penalties on the opening day with alternator failure on his Nissan and finished at the rear of the field.
With Al-Balooshi sealing a third motorcycle win in Hail by setting the fifth quickest time, his brother Sultan looked set to snatch second overall for the MX Ride Dubai team after Jordanian Abdullah Abu Aishah dropped over 38 minutes to the leading group after getting lost. But numerous time penalties were imposed on several riders inside the top 10 for waypoint violations and Sultan slipped back to 10th.
“Today we opened the stage and I was really happy with my navigation,” said the triumphant Al-Balooshi. “I had really decent navigation and a good pace. Nobody catch me. I was really happy. I knew when you open the route that there is a big opportunity that the guys from behind will catch you. But I focused up front, I did my job, one kilometre at a time and it paid off and I arrived with a big back.”
Qatar-based Australian Martin Chalmers finished second on his Beta 450. Missed waypoint time penalties had ruined Alex McInnes’s challenge on Friday, but the young Briton recovered well to seal top Junior honours and third place.
The day’s stage-winning Jonathan Finn came home in fourth overall, local rider Mishal Al-Ghuneim was fifth and a disappointed Abu Aisheh finished sixth.
Abu Aisheh said: “Today, I got lost at km40. I missed a waypoint and I went back to find it and lost 25 minutes. I didn’t find it an I jumped to the next waypoint and I continued. I lost the win.”
Emirati Hamdan Al-Ali, Great Britain’s Brett Hunt, Australian Andrew Houilhan and Sultan Al-Balooshi rounded off the top 10, after Kuwait’s Abdullah Al-Shatti suffered further time penalties and slipped down the rankings.
Abdulaziz Al-Yaeesh and Omar Al-Lahim held on to seal victory in the Saudi National Baja in their Nissan Patrol. Al-Mashna Al-Ramali and Rady Al-Shammeri were second
The Baja was managed by the Saudi Motorsport Company, in conjunction with the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF) and the Ministry of Sport and in partnership with Abdul Latif Jameel (ALJ) Motors.
2023 Saudi Baja-Hail – positions after SS2 (unofficial @ 14.35rs
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (AND) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 3hr 56min 17sec
2. Krzysztof Holowczyc (POL)/Lukasz Kurzeja (POL) Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus 4hr 11min 36sec
3. Juan Cruz Yacopini (ARG)/Daniel Oliveras (ESP) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 4hr 15min 19sec
4. Saleh Al-Saif (SAU)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Can-Am Maverick (T3) 4hr 33min 28sec
5. Yasir Seaidan (SAU)/Alexei Kuzmich (ARE) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 4hr 33min 37sec
T1 unless stated
Bikes (top 5)
1. Mohammed Al-Balooshi (ARE) KTM 450 Rally 5hr 43min 30sec
2. Martin Chalmers (AUS) Beta 450 6hr 05min 34sec
3. Alex McInnes (GBR) Husqvarna FE 450 6hr 12min 06sec
4. Jonathan Finn (CAN) Honda CRF 450 RL 6hr 16min 13sec
5. Mishal Al-Ghuneim (SAU) KTM 450 Rally 6hr 28min 17sec
1. Haitham Al-Tuwaijri (SAU) Yamaha Raptor 700 6hr 16min 10sec
2. Abdulaziz Ahli (ARE) Yamaha Raptor 700 6hr 17min 07sec
3. Hani Al-Noumesi (SAY) Yamaha Raptor 700 8hr 19min 41sec
- FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas, round 1
- FIA Middle East for Cross-Country Bajas, round 1
- Saudi Toyota Desert Rally Championship, round 1
- FIM Bajas World Cup, round 1
Source: Saudi Baja-Hail official press release