Sports

Saudi Arabia's Al Rajhi powers his way into big Dubai Baja lead

February 20, 2021

DUBAI — Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi dominated the opening leg of the Dubai International Baja with a stunning drive today while UAE-based South African rider Aaron Mare moved within reach of back-to-back bike victories as the rally entered the motorsport record books.

Reunited with long-time British co-driver Michael Orr, Al Rajhitook his Toyota Hilux Overdrive into a lead of 21mins 31 secs over fellow-Saudi Yasir Seaidan, accompanied by Aleksei Kuzmich in a Mini John Cooper Works Rally Sheikh Khalid Al Qasimi and German Dirk Von Zitzewitz were just four seconds further adrift in third place in an Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR in the second round of the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas for cars.

Ruled out last year because of the coronavirus emergency, the rally is being staged in compliance with strict COVID-19 Protocol, and it made history today as the first FIA World Cup cross-country event to be run on solar power.

Based at DEWA’s Innovation Centre located at the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, the event provided a challenging first leg test for drivers and riders on a 192km passage through the dunes and plains of the Al Qudra desert.

With Al Rajhi taking charge of DEWA’s Innovation Centre Special Stage as he chases a first cars victory in the event, France’s Pierre Lachaume and Loic Minaudier in a PH Sport Zephyr, Pavel Lebedev and Kiril Shubin in a CAN AM Maverick and Claude Fournier with Szymon Gospodqrczyk, also in a CAN AM Maverick, completed the top six.

Lachaume and Minaudier finished the day heading the T3 buggies category while Lebedev and Shubin were winning the race for the T4 title.

Top-seeded Honda rider Mare, returning to action after a 2019 Dakar Rally crashes, produced another impressive display as he moved into 2 mins 20 secs first leg bikes lead over fellow countryman and 2017 winner Mark Ackerman on a Husqvarna, with British KTM rider Sam Smith in third.

The UAE’s Sultan Al Balooshi on a Husqvarna, Jordanian Abdallah Abuaisheh riding a KTM, and the UAE’s 2018 winner and World Cup champion Mohammed Al Balooshi on another Husqvarna completed the top six in the opening round of this year’s FIM Bajas World Cup.

Emirati Mansoor Al Suwaidi on a Yamaha YFZ 450 R was a runaway leader of the quads category with a huge lead of 1hr 38 mins 10 secs from Saudi Haitham Al Tuwayjiri on another Yamaha.

Taking place under the patronage of Dubai's Crown Prince Shiekh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Dubai International Baja is sponsored by Dubai Electricity & Water Authority, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, and Arabian Automobiles Nissan.

"It feels good to welcome back World Cup cross country rallying, especially as we’re setting an example for other events to follow in sustainable motorsport development," said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, president of the Emirates Motorsports Organization and FIA vice president for sport.

Al Rajhi reached the end of the stage to say: "It was a good day and we drove fast, with Michael doing a good job. We had some technical issues at around 30 km and later a puncture. But a good day. And good to have Michael back."

Al Qasimi said: "The first 20 km, the car was hesitant on the dunes. We tried different ways but kept getting stuck. Because there has been no rain the sand is very soft so we tried to avoid the dunes as much as possible."

Mare completed today’s leg to say: "It was a good stage, pretty technical in places and some very fast straight flats. This has been my first since crashing in the 2019 Dakar. Since then I have had surgery and been focusing on getting fit."

The event had started without the top-seeded driver and co-driver combination of Denis Krotov and Konstantin Zhiltsov who arrived in Dubai only for their Mini John Cooper Works Rally to be held up by customs formalities in Saudi Arabia following the Dakar Rally.

Among the early casualties were the UAE’s Yahya Al Helei and Khalid Al Kendi whose Nissan Pick Up went out of the rally with mechanical problems. The surviving drivers and riders next tackle Saturday’s 194 km Arabian Automobiles Nissan Special Stage which leads to the podium and prizegiving at the Innovation Centre at 5.15 p.m. — WAM


February 20, 2021
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