Mohammed Al-Balooshi and Hani Al-Noumesi win bike and quad categories
Yazeed Al-Rajhi teamed up with German co-driver Timo Gottschalk to get the defence of his Saudi Toyota Rally Championship title underway with a comfortable victory at the new Tabuk-Neom Rally in northern Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
The Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux driver began the second 136km desert selective section with a lead of 19min 28sec and was able to extend that to a winning margin of 34min 43sec. After missing the opening round, following an injury sustained in a skiing accident, the result enabled the Saudi to close in on his local title rivals before the final two rounds of the series in Al-Qassim and Jeddah later in the year.
Al-Rajhi said: “Everything going well. It was a nice race, very technical with good navigation. Sure, we are happy we come to this race in this area that we came to on Dakar and it is now in the Saudi Championship. We lead every stage. Now I look ahead to Bajas in Italy and Spain.”
Emirati KTM rider Mohammed Al-Balooshi romped away from his brother Sultan and leading Saudi rider Mishal Al-Ghuneim to win the motorcycle category by 30min 11sec on his KTM 450
The three had ridden together over the closing kilometres on Friday but Mohammed led from the front through a tricky closing stage and chose his tracks wisely to seal a comfortable win.
With Al-Ghuneim slipping down to an eventual fourth place on his Beta 430RR after overcoming a very heavy crash, Kiwi rider Philip Wilson finished second on the day and climbed into third and secured the final podium place. Sultan Al-Balooshi stayed with Al-Ghuneim after his accident and sportingly rode with the Saudi to the stage finish. Abdulhaleem Al-Mogheera rounded off the top five.
Mohammed Al-Balooshi said: “It was an awesome day for me. It was attack from the very beginning. Our aim was to push while navigating. Winning is just icing on the cake. I am really happy.”
Al-Ghuneim added: “It started off really good. I caught up to Sultan in the first 20km, rose really well and then, at km40, I was crossing a wadi and I think I was on the wrong track and I realised I needed to correct. While I was correcting on a flat track, my eyes went off the road book for a few seconds and I hit a massive rock at maybe 120km/h. I was launched into the air and cartwheeled and I thought it was game over. I stayed there to gain my sense of orientation and it took me about 15 or 20 minutes to decide whether I needed to be evacuated or not. I realised I could get up and I could finish the rally. The bike was damaged with the road book and I worked as a team with Sultan and we rode together to the finish of the stage.”
Saleh Al-Saif managed to squeeze past Danial Akeel on the final morning to snatch second place and victory in the T3 category for lightweight prototype cross-country vehicles in his Can-Am Maverick X3. Akeel finished second in T3, but missed out on third overall in the general classification after falling behind Khalid Al-Feraihi on the final sprint to the finish.
Al-Saif said: “We follow a plan to get second place. We got lost at the beginning of the stage but we managed to make up the time we lost and we caught Dania before the finish line but were surprised when Khalid Al-Feraihi passed us. It is a great achievement to be runner-up in a light vehicle.”
“I had a great time, it was really fun,” added Akeel. “I was a bit disappointed when I saw that we had lost second place overall but I still enjoyed the drive. We learned a lot and, honestly, it was very enjoyable. For T3, it was a good performance but it is nice to compete for the overall. It’s so difficult to compete with the T1s when it is flat and fast. We don’t usually look at the T1s as competition to be honest. It was a nice surprise on day one and we had a good drive on the final stage.”
Al-Feraihi added: “Great experience this rally. It was a bit difficult for us due to a problem with the engine but we managed to finish third and first in class.”
Khalid Al-Jafla finished fourth overall and third in T3 and Saudi Toyota Championship leader Abdulaziz Al-Yaeesh set the second quickest time on the last stage to secure sixth. “The stages were great,” said Al-Jafla. “We won the stage (T3). It is like preparing for the Dakar Rally, same landscape and atmosphere and it is good to come here to gain experience of the terrain in Saudi Arabia.”
Al-Yaeesh said: “Things are very fast. It is like a WRC rally. We don’t feel we are in a Baja. We just have high centre of gravity cars. We are flying at high speed. There were a lot of small dunes today with hard surfaces. Our car is the highest car in the whole rally. We had one really big hit. We are still leading the championship by a nice margin.”
Maha Al-Hameli finished eighth and won the T4 section in her Can-Am. She said: “The stages were very nice. We were first in T4. It’s an amazing feeling to win.”
Hani Al-Noumesi rode cautiously over the final kilometres on his Yamaha Raptor to confirm a comfortable victory in the quad category from final stage winner Haitham Al-Tuwaijri. Tabuk rider Abdulaziz Al-Atawi came home a distant third after incurring a fistful of time penalties on day one.
Al-Atawi said: “It was so fast. I missed my road book because I was going too fast and, at km90, I do it without the road book. This is my first rally after injuring my hand in Jeddah last year.”
Ibrahim Al-Muhanna also completed the event in his T5 Mercedes in the truck category with co-driver Faisal Al-Suwayh and mechanic Raed Abu Theeb
The event was organised by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF) in conjunction with the Ministry of Sport and in partnership with official sponsor Abdul Latif Jameel (ALJ) Motors and strategic sponsor Saudi Investment Bank (SAIB).
2023 Tabuk-Neom Rally – positions after SS2:
1. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Toyota Hilux 3hr 18min 42sec
2. Saleh Al-Saif (SAU)/Egor Okhotnikov (ARE) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 3hr 53min 25sec
3. Khalid Al-Feraihi (SAU)/Sébastien Delaunay (FRA) Nissan 3hr 54min 47sec
4. Dania Akeel (SAU)/Taye Perry (DEU) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 3hr 55min 42sec
5. Khalid Al-Jafla (ARE)/Ali Mirza (ARE) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 3hr 59min 13sec
1. Mohammed Al-Balooshi (ARE) KTM 450 4hr 38min 06sec
2. Sultan Al-Balooshi (ARE) KTM 450 5hr 08min 17sec
3. Philip Wilson (SAU) KTM 4505hr 08min 55sec
4. Mishal Al-Ghuneim (SAU) Beta 430RR 5hr 13min 26sec
5. Abdulhalim Al-Mogheera (SAU) KTM 450 5hr 20min 19sec
1. Hani Al-Noumesi (SAU) Yamaha Raptor 700 6hr 18min 19sec
2. Haitham Al-Tuwaijri (SAU) Yamaha Raptor 700 12hr 06min 42sec
3. Abdulaziz Al-Atawi (SAU) Yamaha Raptor 700 18hr 36min 42sec