Ha'Il Baja 2023: Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah in cruise control after first stage of Saudi Baja-Hail
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Ha'Il Baja 2023: Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah in cruise control after first stage of Saudi Baja-Hail

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Emirati Mohammed Al-Balooshi eases into slender lead in the motorcycles
Saudi’s Yasir Seaidan and Spaniard Pau Navarro top FIA T3 and T4 categories

Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and French co-driver Mathieu Baumel cruised into a lead of 12min 05sec after a 230km loop stage through the deserts to the west of Hail on the 2023 Saudi Baja-Hail on Friday.

The Qatari stopped the clocks in 2hr 24min 48sec and beat closest rival Krzysztof Holowczyc by 9min 50sec to comfortably lead the Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus driver and his Polish co-driver Lukasz Kurzeja.

Toyota driver Al-Attiyah said: “It was good. We did not have a big push. We just wanted to have a day without any problems. We have a good time. We decide last week to do this one and we will do Qatar and, if we have the time, we will do Baja Spain and I would like to do Jordan Baja for the first time and then Dubai.”

Holowczyc had suffered a blow after the opening Prologue stage when it came to light that the Pole had strayed slightly off the designated course and the result was a two-minute time penalty that dropped him to the foot of the rankings at the start of Friday morning’s timed stage.

Yasir Seaidan was the class of the T3 lightweight prototype category and the Saudi managed to beat defending FIA Bajas T3 World Champion Fernando Alvarez by 6min 17sec to lead the class and hold third overall.

“It was a good stage, the best ever,” said Seaidan. “We were fast from the beginning and we continued pushing to the end. We didn’t have the top speed but it was a good day and a good start to the Middle East programme.”

Fellow countryman Saleh Al-Saif was second fastest in his Team Black Horse Can-Am, despite missing his designated refuelling time because of congestion at the refuelling zone, and slotted into fourth in the overall rankings and second in T3. Dania Akeel climbed through the field to hold sixth place, behind Alvarez, and fourth in T3 in her South Racing Can-Am.

Young Spaniard Pau Navarro and his French co-driver Michael Metge delivered an impressive performance to lead the FIA T4 category in an FN Speed Team Can-Am, while the French duo of Jeremie Warnier and Loic Minaudier were second in a Polaris RXR Pro R. Overnight leader Cristiano Batista lost time with technical issues.

T3 driver Meshari Al-Thefiri hit trouble before the stage started. The Kuwaiti said: “After service, we started the road section and, after 25km, the fuel pump died. After 10km, the spare one also died and we came back. We find some connector problem and we didn’t have the parts and, once we had fixed it, it was too late.”

Local driver Saeed Al-Mouri was also in trouble. He said: “Unfortunately, at the start of the stage, after 4km, two rocks came through the windshield, the glass broke and the debris came into the car and into my eyes and we could not continue. I discussed with Ata (Al-Hmoud) and we decided to stop and continue on Saturday.”

Argentina’s Juan Cruz Yacopini was running strongly early in the stage in the second of the Overdrive Toyotas until he had an accident near the end of the special and slipped to seventh overall. He said: “It was not the best day. We had an accident 15km from the finish, but all is okay.”

MX Ride Dubai’s Mohammed Al-Balooshi was in a class of his own on the stage in the motorcycle category and the Emirati won on the day by 2min 22sec to move into an overall lead of 4min 57sec over the Prologue-winning Jordanian Abdullah Abu Aishah

“Today was good until km16 and I realised I had jumped from eighth to first,” said Al-Balooshi. “For me, I thought I would only catch them after 80km, or before the refuel, so I was surprised. That meant I had to navigate and open the route. I was not prepared for this but I managed and took up the challenge. I led the rest of the stage and won. I am happy with this. Tomorrow, I take it easy and make sure we arrive on the finish line.”

Abu Aishah added: “Yesterday, I had a problem with the starter motor and the battery and I tried to fix it. Today, I had the same problem but my friend helped me to push the bike. The stage was good. Ater refuelling, it was tricky navigation, but I am happy with my result. We will keep pushing until the end.”

Kuwait’s Abdullah Al-Shatti came home in second place on the day and climbed to third, while Al-Balooshi’s brother Sultan and Saudi rider Anass Al-Rehyani rounded off the overall top five. Australian Martin Chalmers was the best of the non-GCC riders in sixth.

Al-Shatti said: “I start 18 position and I finish third today. I am happy. More fast tomorrow.”

Abdulaziz Ahli increased his lead over Haitham Al-Tuwaijri in the quad category by 4min 17sec to 4min 25sec. Hani Al-Noumesi was a distant third.
Abdulaziz Al-Yaeesh and Omar Al-Lahim led the Saudi National Baja in their Nissan Patrol. They were 9min 21sec ahead of Al-Mashna Al-Ramali and Rady Al-Shammeri.
The Baja is being 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.

Saturday
The opening round of the 2023 FIA World and Middle East Cups for Cross-Country Bajas, the FIM Bajas World Cup and the Saudi Toyota National Rally Championship continues with a second selective section that runs for 184km through the An Nafud desert and starts at Farhaniyah, 57km from the bivouac. The ceremonial finish will take place from 19.30hrs on Saturday evening at Maghwat.

2023 Saudi Baja-Hail – positions after SS1 (unofficial @ 15.45hrs):

Cars
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (AND) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 2hr 27min 45sec
2. Krzysztof Holowczyc (POL)/Lukasz Kurzeja (POL) Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus 2hr 39min 50sec
3. Yasir Seaidan (SAU)/Alexei Kuzmich (ARE) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 2hr 42min 47sec
4. Saleh Al-Saif (SAU)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Can-Am Maverick (T3) 2hr 44min 55sec
5. Fernando Alvarez (ARG)/Xavier Panseri (FRA) Can-Am Maverick (T3) 2hr 49min 08sec

Bikes
1. Mohammed Al-Balooshi (ARE) KTM 450 Rally 3hr 34min 35sec
2. Abdullah Abu Aishah (JOR) KTM EXC-F 450 3hr 39min 32sec
3. Abdullah Al-Shatti (KWT) Husqvarna 450 Rally 3hr 42min 01sec
4. Sultan Al-Balooshi (ARE) TM 450 3hr 44min 32sec
5. Anass Al-Rehyani (SAU) KTM 450 3hr 46min 54sec

Quads
1. Abdulaziz Ahli (ARE) Yamaha Raptor 700 3hr 46min 58sec
2. Haitham Al-Tuwaijri (SAU) Yamaha Raptor 700 3hr 51min 21sec
3. Hani Al-Noumesi (SAY) Yamaha Raptor 700 5hr 59min 47sec

Valid for:

  • 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

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