Al-Rajhi & Al-Attiyah top field for World & Middle East Baja opener in Saudi

Al-Rajhi & Al-Attiyah top field for World & Middle East Baja opener in Saudi

Less than three weeks after the country hosted the Dakar Rally, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will play host to the 2023 Saudi Baja-Ha’il, the opening round of both the FIA World and Middle East Cups for Cross-Country Bajas, on February 2-4.

Last year’s three-day event across the An Nafud desert, near the north-central city of Ha’il, took place in November, but the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF) has taken the first slot in the 2023 calendar, with many vehicles and logistical equipment still in situ after the recent Dakar Rally.

Topping a 33-FIA car entry, consisting of six T1, seven T2 and 20 T3 and T4 cars, is the leading Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi, who teams up with German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz in the first of three Toyota Hiluxes run by Overdrive Racing.

The 2022 Saudi Baja winner lines up against the recently-crowned five-time Dakar Rally winner Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and his Andorra-based team-mate Mathieu Baumel and a third Overdrive-run Hilux for Argentina’s Juan-Cruz Yacopini and Spaniard Daniel Oliveras.

Polish veteran Krzysztof Holowczyc was the winner of the 2010 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas and the 2013 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies and provides the main competition to the three Toyotas. The Olsztyn driver teams up with Lukasz Kurzeja and wheels out an X-raid-run Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus.

Saudi drivers, Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri and Abdullah Al-Sanad, are also registered for points in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas in their respective T1 and T2 Nissans.

Eight of the 10 vehicles entered in the T3 section for lightweight prototype machines are registered for the FIA World Cup and seven are Can-Ams. Fernando Alvarez is the defending FIA World Cup Bajas T3 champion and last year’s T3 winner in Ha’il: the Spaniard, who resides in Argentina, leads the way against the likes of the Saudi trio of Dania Akeel, Mashael Al-Obaidan and Saleh Al-Saif.

Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri, Spain’s Santiago Navarro and Diego Martinez and Brazil’s Otavio Sousa round off the Can-Am competition, while Dutch all-rounder Kees Koolen wheels out a new G Rally Team OT3.

Six of the 10 T4 entries are registered for the FIA World Cup. Last year’s Saudi Baja T4 section-winning Brazilian Cristiano Batista also won the 2022 FIA T4 title and heads the entry with Portuguese co-driver Fausto Moto.

The sole South Racing Can-Am Team entrant in the category faces competition from the FN Speed Team’s young Pau Navarro, three new Polaris Pro Rs in the hands of Michele Cinotto, Jeremie Warnia and Luis Maria Henderson and Spanish privateer Ricardo Ramilo Suarez.

Competitors registered for the FIA Middle East Cup for Cross-Country Bajas will not score points in the FIA World Cup and vice-versa.

One of the top seeds for the regional Baja series is the Saudi driver Yasir Seaidan, who recently took part in the Dakar Rally in a Can-Am. He again teams up with Alexei Kuzmich in a T3 Race World Can-Am. Competition in the T1 category comes from the Saudi Border Guard crew of Khalid Al-Feraihi and French co-driver Sébastien Delaunay in a Nissan Patrol Y61.

Six Saudi T2 drivers are registered for the FIA Middle East Baja series: half a dozen Nissans in the hands of Ahmed Al-Shegawi, Majed Al-Tunayyan, Ibrahim bin Salman, Ibrahim Al-Muhanna, Khalid Al-Hamzani and Yayha Halawi will tackle the event.

Shegawi Racing’s Hamad Al-Harbi (Can-Am) is the second registered FIA Middle East Baja driver in the T3 category, while the Saudi Can-Am trio of Saeed Al-Mouri, Abdullah Al-Shegawi and Maha Al-Hameli will contest the T4 section alongside Kuwait’s Salem Al-Dhafeeri.

This year’s Hail event again runs to a compact format with administration, scrutineering checks and the pre-event press conference all taking place on Wednesday (February 1).

Thursday afternoon’s ceremonial start (14.30hrs) is then followed by a three-kilometre Qualifying Stage to determine the starting order for the desert selective sections over the following two days.

2023 Saudi Baja-Ha’il (leading entries):

200. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Dirk von Zitzewitz (DEU)    Toyota Hilux Overdrive*
201. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (AND)    Toyota Hilux Overdrive*
202. Juan Cruz Yacopini (ARG)/Daniel Oliveras (ESP)    Toyota Hilux Overdrive*
203. Krzysztof Holowczyc (POL)/Lukasz Kurzeja (POL)    Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus*
204. Khaled Al-Feraihi (SAU)/Sébastien Delaunay (FRA)                             Nissan Patrol Y61+
205. Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri (SAU)/Hani Al-Shammeri (SAU)    Nissan Patrol*
206. Abdullah Al-Sanad (SAU)/Abdulattif Al-Sanad (SAU)    Nissan Patrol (T2)*
207. Ahmed Al-Shegawi (SAU)/Marc Serra (ESP)    Nissan Patrol (T2)+
208. Majed Al-Thunayyan (SAU)/Fahad Al-Sufyani (SAU)    Nissan Patrol (T2)+
209. Ibrahim bin Salman (SAU)/Mohammed Al-Dawish (SAU)    Nissan Patrol (T2)+
T1 unless stated     
*denotes registered for FIA World Cup     
+ denotes registered for FIA Middle East Cup     
Timetable of events     
Wednesday, February 1     
Administration checks, Baja HQ, Ha’il    07.00-20.00hrs
Scrutineering checks, Baja HQ, Ha’il    08.00-22.00hrs
Pre-event press conference, Baja HQ, Ha’il    19.00hrs
Thursday, February 2     
Ceremonial start, Maghwat    14.30hrs
Qualifying Stage SS1A (3km)    16.30hrs
Friday, February 3      
Leg 1 (229.59km)    07.30hrs onwards
Saturday, February 4      
Leg 2 (184km)    07.30hrs onwards

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