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HAIL (SAUDI ARABIA): Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah edged into a lead of 2min 50sec over Carlos Sainz after the opening 251.81km Radifah selective section of Hail Baja 1, round four of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas, on Friday.

The two triple Dakar winners were the quickest duo through the latter sections of the stage with the Toyota Hilux driver snatching the stage win from his Mini Buggy rival. Sainz’s team-mate and Dakar legend Stéphane Peterhansel rounded off the podium places after an early puncture, the Frenchman pushing local star Yazeed Al-Rajhi down to fourth place in the second of the Toyotas.

Overnight leader Al-Attiyah said: “It was a very good day for us and we start in a good position behind Carlos and we were fighting with Carlos. Last 40km we are together and he touch us two times….we were together all the way. I am happy to win the stage.”

Sainz added: “The stage was good and it was coming fast. Nasser catch us and we follow him all the stage.”

Peterhansel reflected: “It was good but, at the beginning of the stage after 10km, we get a puncture. So we stopped three minutes for that. After I stay with Nasser and Carlos and we finish all together. We changed some settings on the car, so this is a good opportunity to do some tests as well.”

“We have two problems. We had low pressure in the tyres and a sensor was flashing on the stage,” said Al-Rajhi. “We will see how it is tomorrow and try and push a little bit.”

Only 28 of the original 54 cars on the entry list were eligible to start the FIA event. Several, including Camelia Liparoti and 2020 Hail International Rally winner Saleh Al-Abdelali, were put into the National Rally that got underway with 44 competitors. Technical issues meant that Czech driver Martin Prokop was not able to take the start in his Ford Raptor RS Cross-Country.

The day’s competitive section wound its way through the An Nafud desert to the north-west of Hail with the bikes able to refuel close to the passage control after 165.77km.

Al-Attiyah, Seaidan and Sainz were the FIA event pace-setters through 66km. Russian Vladimir Vasilyev overtook FIA Baja title rival Bernhard Ten Brinke early in the stage, while Poland’s Jakub Przygonski dropped 12 minutes to the leaders and fell further behind as the stage progressed. Al-Attiyah, Sainz and Al-Rajhi headed their rivals after 108km and 165km.

Overdrive Racing’s team manager Jean-Marc Fortin explained the fuel issue that caused the delays for both Przygonski and Ten Brinke, with the former dropping 1hr 23min to the stage winner. “Around 80km, Kuba (Przygonski) got a problem with the car. We have a problem with the quality of fuel in the region. It is difficult to find a good set-up of engine management. Then we resolved the problem.”

Al-Attiyah, Sainz, Peterhansel and Al-Rajhi reached the finish in the top four places, with Vasilyev taking fifth, Ten Brinke sixth after a late slow puncture and Denis Krotov finishing eighth after reported broken suspension delays for local driver Yasir Seaidan cost him a good finish.

Ten Brinke said: “We were running a bit low on fuel towards the finish and could not push in the last 100km. The speed was okay, but I was impressed with the speed of the first two. I think they took some risks. We were more like on the Dakar speed and they were on a sprint speed…..”

Vasilyev added: “My speed was good but, after 50km, I needed to open the road. It was not easy and it was an advantage for those following behind to catch me.”

Aron Domzala’s hopes of confirming the FIA T4 title on Hail Baja 1 suffered a setback when a transmission issue meant that he struggled at the start and was then forced to change two drive shafts after 60km to enable him to continue in two-wheel drive. The decision was taken for the Pole to take a stage maximum penalty.

Dutchman Kees Koolen had been running as high as seventh overall after 108km and the Can-Am driver reached the finish in 13th place and first in T4 from rivals Khalifa Al-Attiyah and Lorenço Rosa.

Saleh Al-Saif was locked in a fascinating tussle with his South Racing Can-Am rival Guillaume de Mevius for the early lead in the FIA T3 section. The Saudi steered his Can-Am to the fastest time and a stunning seventh in the overall standings to lead ninth-placed De Mevius by 3min 02sec.

Saudi drier Khalid Al-Jafla rounded off the top 10 in his Toyota, with Miroslav Zapletal (Ford) and Erik van Loon (Toyota) rounding off the dusty leading dozen. Saudi driver Al-Mashna Al-Shammeri (Nissan) was the unofficial winner of the stage in the National Rally.

Nineteen bikes and 18 quads eventually made it to the start. Yamaha’s official factory rider Adrien van Beveren cruised into a comfortable lead in the motorcycle category on his WRF 450. He pulled away from the start and was 9min 08sec in front of Poland’s Konrad Dabrowski after 66km and 19min 19sec in front at the refuelling.

The Frenchman eventually carded an opening stage time of 2hr 48min 11sec to stretch his lead over the Pole to 25min 09sec. Third place fell to local rider Mishal Al-Ghuneim.

Van Beveren said: “It was a nice day for me. I am here for training. I am a professional rider and not comparing myself with the other riders. I try to navigate good and it was difficult. It is a Baja only in name. It is a real rally and a difficult one. The navigation was tricky. You could not relax. It was full of sand, twisty tracks and great training for me for Dakar.”

Yamahas topped the quad timings with Riyadh Al-Shammeri taking a first stage lead from Abdulaziz Al-Shayban and multiple Hail International winner Absulmajeed Al-Khulaifi.


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