Hail Cross-Country Rally 2021: Marek Gozcal and Saleh Al-Saif seal T4 and T3 victories
South Racing-built Can-Ams dominated both the FIA T3 and T4 categories at the Hail Cross-Country Rally in Saudi Arabia, with Poland’s Marek Goczal sealing the win in T4 and local driver Saleh Al-Saif claiming victory in T3.
South Racing machines dominated both categories on the demanding four-day desert finale to the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies that had already seen American racer Austin Jones claim the FIA T4 World Championship title in a South Racing Can-Am and the South Racing Can-Am Team confirm the FIA Teams’ title.
Michal Goczal and his co-driver Szymon Gospodarczyk became embroiled in a tussle with brother Marek Goczal and his navigator Lukasz Laskawiec for overall T4 honours in two Energylandia Rally Team Can-Ams built by South Racing. Gearbox issues thwarted Michal’s challenge on day three and he finished fifth, but Marek managed to secure a first victory by the margin of 31min 55sec and finished a superb seventh in the overall rally classification.
Australia’s Molly Taylor and Dale Moscatt used the event as a valuable test session before the Dakar Rally in January and the talented female driver reached the finish in second position in T4 and 10th overall.
“We made it to the end after a great week with a lot of learning,” said Taylor. “The final stage was not ideal. We had a puncture. But we made it through in P2 overall. The rally gave us a taste of everything that we can expect on the Dakar.”
South Racing Middle East’s Thomas Bell teamed up with Bruno Jacomy to finish third after the Ukraine’s fourth-placed Ievgen Kovalevych incurred time penalties for failing to finish the second stage.
“It was a great rally for South Racing and South Racing Middle East,” said Bell. “Some spectacular routes this week and fantastic stages.”
Saudi Arabia’s Saleh Al-Saif and Egor Okhotikov secured a comfortable win in the FIA T3 section, the local driver finishing 47min 24sec clear of his nearest rival.
Saudi female driver Mashael Al-Obaidan teamed up with Italy’s Jacopo Cerruti and drove a South Racing Middle East-run Can-Am superbly to finish second, despite a roll in the dunes
Her compatriot Dania Akeel had already won the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas T3 title and the Saudi reached the finish in fourth with French navigator Antonia de Roissard. Germany’s Annett Fischer teamed up with Sweden’s Annie Seel and ran a South Racing-built Can-Am under the X-raid banner to round off the podium places with a fastest time on SS1 to boot.
“It was a super-fast and rocky last stage,” said Fischer. “We tried to push a bit but there was a lot of dust. It was good preparation for us for the Dakar. It was our first race together. We had a lot to learn and it came together well with P3 and I got my first ever stage win on day one.”
“I am so happy to finish the Hail Rally,” said Akeel. “The whole last stage was flat and fast. I love going fast. I enjoy the dunes but the last day was fun. The whole week was an incredible experience for me.”
The Russian duo of Pavel Lebedev and Kirill Shubin suffered a crash and broken suspension on the first stage, sat out the next two days and returned to win the last special and secure sixth position.
South Racing Can-Am Team’s Scott Abraham said: “Hail was the end of a very eventful FIA cross-country season for the team. It was a first win for Marek. He has been close a lot of times and sealed the deal here. Molly reached the podium on her second only cross-country race and proved that she has the pace to hang with the boys. Thomas Bell was third in the T4.
“In the T3s it was the same with Saleh Al-Saif in one of our cars and Mashael finishing in second and Annett finishing in third. It was a strong event for the ladies. It has been a great year for the team and Can-Am. The next challenge for us is Dakar 2022.”
As it happened
The four days of desert competition began with a selective section of 258.14km. Saleh Al-Saif topped the times in the T3 section in his Can-Am, the Saudi beating Fischer to the stage win by 4min 51sec. Al-Obaidan came home in third, with Anvar Ergashev in fourth place and Akeel finishing sixth with additional time penalties after a heavy landing in camel grass broke one of the steering arms.
An accident sidelined Lebedev with damaged suspension and the Russian duly earned a fistful of time penalties.
Michal Goczal moved into eighth in the overall classification, won the T4 stage in his Can-Am and finished 9min 43sec in front of Taylor. The Pole’s brother Marek was third, despite a bent suspension arm, while Kovalevych and Bell rounded off the top five.
Action continued with a longer second stage of 314km. Three South Racing-built Can-Ams found themselves in the overall top 10, with Michal Goczal heading brother Marek and Taylor. Marek and Michal Goczal later benefited from 17min 22sec and 13min 41sec time deductions when their path through the opening stage was analysed by rally officials.
“The stage was marvellous,” said Marek Goczal. “We got together with my brother to the first waypoint because we couldn’t find it. We were racing and driving together all the way to the finish line. We really increased the tempo after the refuelling. It reminded me of my dream Dakar stage. For moments like this, it is really worth racing..”
Bell moved up to fourth after Kovalevych incurred time penalties for not completing the stage after an accident. “After km80 we made a mistake at the left turn, the sand was very soft and we rolled a couple of times,” said Kovalevych. “We were the first to finish. We bent the rear arm, broke the rear drive shaft but we assembled the car and slowly made our way to the finish through the dunes.”
Al-Saif topped the T3 times in his Can-Am, the Saudi beating Al-Obaidan by 20min 06sec and Dania Akeel by 36min 02sec. The result meant that Al-Obaidan overhauled Fischer to snatch second in the rankings and Akeel moved up to fourth. Lebedev sat out the stage and incurred further time penalties.
“No problems with the car and I drove to my comfort level,” said Akeel. “I didn’t take any risks. It makes me a little disappointed after my mistake on day one.”
Day three’s timetable included a selective section of 249km. Gearbox woes spelt the end of Michal Goczal’s challenge for T4 honours and the Pole slipped out of contention as his brother Marek claimed the stage win and moved 25min 37sec ahead of Taylor in the rankings. Kovalevych came home third on the day.
“It was not a good stage for us, we broke the gearbox 30km after the start,” said Michal Goczal. “We are not happy because we were in the first position. Now we will push on the last day. Maybe we accumulate the luck for the Dakar.”
In T3, another stage win enabled Al-Saif to increase his advantage over Al-Obaidan to 44min 37sec. Fischer was third on the day and held a similar position in the standings, with Akeel and Lebedev filling fourth and sixth, Akeel frustrated by a couple of navigational delays during the day.
Michal Goczal bounced back strongly to win the short final stage of 148km in the T4 section, the Pole beating his brother Marek by 2min 56sec, although the latter secured the T4 category win from Taylor and Bell.
Lebedev returned to action to win the stage in the T3 section, but second-placed Al-Saif had done enough to claim the category win. Al-Obaidan and Fischer were a distant second and third.
Support for the South Racing Can-Am Team came from Method Wheels, Tensor Tires, Motul, Bell, Jjuan Brake Systems, Lazer and OMP
Both the South Racing Can-Am Team and South Racing Middle East now switch their attention to the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia in January.
2021 Hail Cross-Country Rally – FIA T4 result:
1. Marek Goczal (POL)/Lukasz Laskawiec (POL) Can-Am Maverick 12hr 11min 19sec
2. Molly Taylor (AUS)/Dale Moscatt (AUS) South Racing Can-Am Maverick 12hr 43min 14sec
3. Thomas Bell (GBR)/Bruno Jacomy (ITA) South Racing ME Can-Am Maverick 13hr 50min 08sec
4. Ievgen Kovalevych (UKR)/Dmitro Tsyro ((UKR) South Racing Can-Am Maverick 34hr 18min 54sec
5. Michal Goczal (POL)/Szymon Gospodarczyk (POL) Can-Am Maverick 38hr 24min 19sec
2021 Hail Cross-Country Rally – FIA T3 result:
1. Saleh Al-Saif (SAU)/Egor Okhotikov (RUS) South Racing ME Can-Am Maverick XRS 13hr 00min 10sec
2. Mashael Al-Obaidan (SAU)/Jacopo Cerutti (ITA) South Racing ME Can-Am Maverick X3 13hr 47min 34sec
3. Annett Fischer (DEU)/Annie Seel (SWE) X-Raid/South Racing Can-Am Maverick XRS 14hr 12min 33sec
4. Dania Akeel (SAU)/Antonia de Roissard (FRA) South Racing ME Can-Am Maverick 15hr 18min 51sec
5. Esraa Aldkheil (SAU)/Laurent Lichtleuchter (FRA) Can-Am X3 RR 36hr 51min 19sec
6. Pavel Lebedev (RUS)/Kirill Shubin (RUS) South Racing Can-Am Maverick XRS 96hr 00min 16sec
Sorce South Racing