The duel between Mini’s Carlos Sainz and Toyota’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah was rekindled in explosive fashion. This was on the opening Baqqa selective section of Hail Baja 2 on Tuesday.
The triple Dakar winners continued the fight for supremacy that they had begun at the fourth round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas last weekend.
The Spaniard and co-driver Lucas Cruz moved in front of their rival after around one third of the day’s 311.57km stage; after the Toyota Hilux driver stopped to change a puncture — and went on to win the special by 2min 20sec.
Sainz’s stage win deprived Al-Attiyah and his French co-driver Matthieu Baumel of half a point, as they try and hunt down Russian Vladimir Vasilyev (Mini) and Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke (Toyota) to snatch the FIA Baja title. But second place was sufficient for Al-Attiyah to claim one bonus point for his runner-up spot.
“Today was a good run but we had two flat tires (one wheel off rim). We stopped and we changed,” said Al-Attiyah. “We lost more than four minutes. After that, we came to the finish and we are only 2min 20sec to Carlos. It is okay. Today we tested the new tires for Dakar. We need to have more experience of these tires.”
Stage winner Sainz said: “It was okay, no problems. Some sandy tracks and some small dunes and fast sections. We keep trying different things, but all is okay.”
Sainz’s teammate Stéphane Peterhansel pipped early stage leader Yazeed Al-Rajhi (Toyota) to the third fastest time and a late surge pushed Vasilyev into fifth spot, with Ten Brinke slipping behind his Overdrive Toyota teammate Jakub Przygonski into seventh after a late puncture.
Peterhansel said: “It was again an interesting day. The end was a little bit fast. The navigation was not too easy. We continue to do testing and training. It is a very good opportunity to be here.”
Fourth-placed Al-Rajhi added: “Today, after 97km, we were leading. After, I catch Peterhansel, I see him and I have a flat tire. I fix it and go and we push and we touch third position again.
“Then I have second puncture before the finish, around 80km. After, I was scared because I did not have more spare tire. But the speed is there. This, the first time I drive this new car. Now I have a good feeling for Dakar and that is important. Tomorrow I will push a little bit to try and get third position.”
Ten Brinke said: “We had a puncture after 40km and lost one and a half minutes. Then Nasser passed us. It was quite impressive that he passed us already after 45km. We followed Nasser until the neutralization. He did a good job to be first car and we followed him.
“We are both fighting for our own titles. It is a free fight. The second part, we were together, Nasser. Vasilyev and me and we were pushing. 50km from the finish, I got a puncture again on a fast right-hander. The tire was off the rim and we needed to change it.”
Yasir Seaidan bounced back from a disappointing Hail Baja 1 in his SRT Century Buggy to record the eighth fastest time — a puncture cost him a potential fifth or sixth place — and Czech driver Martin Prokop (Ford) and Erik van Loon (Toyota) rounded off the top 10.
Saudi driver Saleh Al-Saif completed the stage in 15th overall and claimed the bonus points for the fastest time in the FIA T3 section in his Can-Am Maverick X3. Second place for Vasily Gryazin keeps the Russian firmly on course for the title, but Guillaume de Mevius’s challenge hangs in the balance after delays on the stage.
Dutchman Kees Koolen reduced Aron Domzala’s advantage in the FIA T4 category to just two points by setting the second quickest time on a stage where the victory fell to fellow South Racing Can-Am Maverick X3 driver Khalifa Al-Attiyah. Domzala dropped 25 minutes to his title rival with electrical issues and finished the stage in fourth behind Portugal’s Lorenço Rosa.
Twenty-seven FIA cars tackled the selective section that started and finished near the town of Baqqa to the northeast of Hail. Motorcycles ran a slightly shorter course of around 275km and 145km were on the agenda for 41 vehicles in the National Rally.
A fierce tussle ensued from the outset between the leading Toyota and Mini drivers with Al-Attiyah holding a six-second advantage over Al-Rajhi through 25km, but the Saudi hit back to snatch a 15-second lead after 97km.
Ten Brinke and Vasilyev crossed the 142km checkpoint together, with the Dutchman holding a three-minute advantage, as Sainz hit the front in the virtual standings by just three seconds and extended that lead to 2min 01sec through the control point after 186km and to 2min 12sec at km 234. He eventually won the stage by 2min 20sec after Al-Attiyah’s stoppages.
There was early technical trouble for Miroslav Zapletal and Mathieu Serradori did not start the stage.
Fifteen motorcycles and 12 quads were permitted to start the opening leg of Hail Baja 2. Kuwait’s Mohammed Al-Jaffar joined forces with Konrad Dabrowski in the Duust Rally Team and was running second quickest behind Frenchman Adrien Van Beveren through 106 kilometres.
Van Beveren eventually cruised to a 35min 14sec stage win on his factory Yamaha, leaving a host of local riders to battle it out with Dabrowski for the minor places. Anass Al-Rehyani claimed second on the day from Mishal Al-Ghuneim, after both fourth-placed Dabrowski and Jaffar lost time.
“It was a fast stage with a lot of wind, so the tracks disappeared and it was difficult to find the way,” said Van Beveren. “It was a good stage, a tough one. But I am happy. I opened all day. This is the best training I could have. I am going faster and faster every day.”
Riyadh Saud Al-Shammeri and Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi renewed their rivalry in the quad category and the former followed up his Hail Baja 1 win by edging into a 2min 01sec lead on his Yamaha. Faisal Al-Shammeri was third.
February’s Hail International Rally winner Saleh Al-Abdelali (Hummer) won the opening stage of the National Rally that finished at PC1. Hail Baja 1 winner Al-Mashna Al-Shammeri (Nissan) was second and Muneef Al-Shemmeri (Nissan) completed the podium positions.
The new X-raid Yamaha YXZ 1000Rs for Mattias Ekström and Camelia Liparoti were placed in the National Rally for their debut appearances and ran at the rear of the field for testing and development purposes.
‘Hail Rally Toyota 2020’ is taking place under the supervision of the Hail Regional Development Authority in co-operation; with the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage and the General Authority for Sport.
Competitors will tackle a shorter stage of 180.29km to draw a curtain on the 2020 FIA Baja series. Ater a liaison section of 108.38km, the first FIA car is due to start the section at 10.00hrs from Dlehan; to the west of Hail, on a route that winds its way through the desert before looping back to finish 58.63km from the city.
The official finishing ceremony will then take place from 15.00hrs.