Competition on the Italian Baja (September 9-11) is set to be intense as the fight for titles escalates on the penultimate round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas and the newly created European Cup. Cancelled last year due to the pandemic, the Italian Baja presents yet another unique challenge as the crews head to the rocky riverbeds around the host city of Pordenone, approximately 80 kilometres from Venice in the northeast of Italy.
Once again, the main contenders across all categories will go head to head over the two-day event, with FIA World Cup front-runners Yasir Seaidan and Alexey Kuzmich leading the 32 crews on the provisional entry list over the start ramp. The Saudi Arabian/Russian pairing have led the standings since claiming victory on the third of the nine round series and a string of top results sees the MINI crew now fighting for a maiden title.
Yazeed Al Rajhi and Michael Orr have however been pushing hard and the Toyota crew has closed the gap to their rivals over the previous events. They are now 16.5 points adrift of the lead in the FIA World Cup standings, but are also in the thick of a battle for European Cup honours with just half a point advantage. Al Rajhi has tasted victory in Italy, the Saudi Arabian driver claiming the win in 2014.
Krzysztof Hołowczyc and Lukasz Kurzeja are also ones to watch, the Poles in stunning form after back-to-back victories on the previous two rounds. They are hounding down Al Rajhi/Orr in both Cups and will be looking for a hat-trick of wins to significantly close the gap in the World Cup standings and overhaul their rivals for the top spot in the European Cup. Hołowczyc is another to have stood on the top step of the Italian Baja podium, the MINI driver winning in 2010.
Miroslav Zapletal, co-driven by Marek Sykora, is fourth in the World Cup classification, just 13 points further adrift of Hołowczyc in his Ford F150 Evo after some top results during the season. The Czech driver heads Erik van Loon in the standings, he and Frenchman Sébastien Delaunay fielding another Overdrive Hilux in Italy. After a period of rehabilitation following a wrist and shoulder injury, Benediktas Vanagas made an impressive return to competition on the previous round in Poland, where he and navigator Filipe Palmeiro finished third overall in their Hilux. Michał and Julita Małuszyński will once again be competing in X-Raid’s MINI John Cooper Works Rally, the Poles looking for better luck after retiring on their home round.
T3 has attracted six competitors, headed by Saudi Arabian driver Dania Akeel. She is pushing hard for the category World Cup title and also continues to fight for the European Cup, her nearest rival being Santiago Navarro, the Spaniard topping the standings on equal points in T3 and also a top finisher in Italy last year. Jesus Fuster does however continue to hunt them both down, the Herrator HRX3 driver third in the European Cup and well within the title fight.
Four title contenders in the T4 category will once again go head to head in Italy, with Mshari Al Thefiri heading Saleh Abdullah Alsaif by just 13.5 points in the FIA World Cup. Going into the event off the back of three podium placings in the category, Alexandre Re is third and the Portuguese Can Am Maverick driver has a useful lead in the European Cup. Frenchman Claude Fournier holds fourth in the World Cup standings and needs to regain his early season form to keep in the fight.
Total distance 648.76 km
Selective section distance: 359.42 km
Number of selective sections: 5
Yasir Seaidan/Alexey Kuzmich MINI John Cooper Works Rally
Yazeed Al Rajhi/Michael Orr Toyota Hilux Overdrive
Krzysztof Hołowczyc/Łukasz Kurzeja MINI John Cooper Works Rally
Miroslav Zapletal/Marek Sykora Ford F150 Evo
Erik van Loon/Sébastien Delaunay Toyota Hilux Overdrive
Benediktas Vanagas/Filipe Palmeiro Toyota Hilux
Michal Małuszyński/Julita Małuszyński MINI John Cooper Works Rally
Xavier Pons/Hernando Armand Monleon Toyota Hilux Overdrive
Sergio Galletti/Giulia Maroni Toyota Hilux Overdrive
Lorenzo Codeca/Mauro Toffoli Suzuki Gran Vitara