After eight events across Europe and the Middle East, the fight for the titles in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas reaches its climax on Baja Portalegre 500 (October 28-30). The battle for honours in the inaugural five-round FIA European Cup is equally intense and the four selective sections over gravel tracks in the east of central Portugal will play host to the final showdown.
The ever-popular event, which celebrates its 35th edition, has attracted an impressive field of 67 competitors across all four categories. World and European Cup leader, Yazeed Al-Rajhi, heads the provisional entry list and the Saudi Arabian, co-driven by Britain’s Michael Orr, will be gunning for their first Baja titles. The Toyota Hilux duo have had a fine run on the last four events, never once off the podium, and Al-Rajhi holds the upper hand going into the decisive round.
Yasir Seaidan and Alexey Kuzmich are their nearest rivals for World Cup honours, the Saudi Arabian/Russian pairing also with two victories this season and other top results in the MINI John Cooper Works Rally. With just a handful of points separating them, the World Cup title will be fought out between these two crews.
Krzysztof Hołowczyc and Łukasz Kurzeja are third in the World Cup standings after victories in Hungary and Poland. In the European Cup, the Poles are chasing Al-Rajhi and Orr hard and another top result in the MINI John Cooper Works Rally could tip the title in their favour. As a two-time winner of Baja Portalegre, Hołowczyc does however know how to claim victory on the Portuguese stages. Tiago Reis and Valter Cardoso are entered in a Hilux and the duo, who finished second last time out in Italy, will be looking to uphold honours on their home event.
A host of other Portuguese crews will however be pushing hard to claim the national plaudits, including João Ramos/Filipe Palmeiro, three-time event winner Miguel Barbosa who will have Pedro Velosa alongside him, and Ricardo Porém, who has won the baja no fewer than four times. He will be navigated by Luis Ramalho.
Seven competitors have entered in T3 and, while the category World Cup title has provisionally been secured by Dania Akeel in her debut season, the battle for European Cup honours will be decided in Portugal. Santi Navarro, with navigator Marc Solà, holds the advantage going into the decisive round, the Spaniard with a 12.5 point lead over fellow countryman Jesus Fuster.
T4 is once again well represented with 15 competitors scheduled to take the start. Alexandre Ré, with brother Pedro in the co-driver’s seat, provisionally wrapped up the European title in the category on the last round in Italy, but World Cup honours will be fought out in Portugal. A two-way battle between the South Racing crews of Saleh Abdullah Al-Saif – who leads the category by 12.5 points – and Ré lies in wait between the BRP Can-Am Maverick rivals.
Note: In the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas, results from seven of the nine rounds will count towards the titles, and in the European Cup the scores from four of the five events.
Total distance 662.99 km
Selective section distance: 410.06 km
Number of selective sections: 4
Yazeed Al Rajhi/Michael Orr Toyota Hilux Overdrive
Yasir Seaidan/Alexey Kuzmich MINI John Cooper Works Rally
Krzysztof Hołowczyc/Łukasz Kurzeja MINI John Cooper Works Rally
Tiago Reis/Valter Cardoso Toyota Hilux
João Ramos/Filipe Palmeiro Toyota Hilux
Miguel Barbosa/Pedro Velosa Toyota Hilux Overdrive
Ricardo Porém/Luis Ramalho MINI Paceman Proto
Pedro Dias da Silva/Jose Janela VW Amarok
Alejandro Martins/Jose Marques MINI John Cooper Works Rally
André Amaral/Nelson Ramos Ford Ranger