Italian Baja 2023 – July 7th-9th, 2023 - FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas, round 3 of 8
Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk claimed a dramatic last-stage victory at the 30th Italian Baja, round three of the 2023 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas.
The Saudi driver set the fastest time and managed to stay out in front when Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Andorra-based co-driver Mathieu Baumel lost vital minutes with differential issues and a lack of drive to the rear wheels and slipped to second overall.
Al-Rajhi managed to beat Argentinean team-mate Juan Cruz Yacopini by 3min 40.7sec on the last stage to secure victory by 9min 27.7sec, but the runner-up spot for Al-Attiyah means the Qatari strengthens his grip on the Drivers’ Championship with Overdrive Racing well clear in the Teams’ Championship. This was Al-Rajhi’s fourth win in Italy after previous successes in 2014, 2021 and 2022.
Al-Rajhi said: “Sure, we are happy. Timo did a great job and we push like hell and we did it very well. We win this race now and we take the trophy as champions. You must take risks sometimes and sometimes you need some luck.”
Al-Attiyah’s co-driver Baumel added: “We started the last stage with a good chance to bring the cup back home but, unfortunately, after 10-15km we had an issue with the rear differential and we only had front-wheel drive, so it was really difficult to manage. Nasser did very well but you cannot fight when you have only two-wheel drive, especially in the river beds and water crossings. We finished second in the race and this is good points for the championship and we were able to increase our leads.”
The Portuguese pairing of João Ferreira and Filipe Palmeiro rounded off the podium places in their Mini JCW Rally Plus, despite losing time following in Al-Attiyah’s dust for over 50 kilometres on the last stage.
Ferreira said: “The last stage we suffered because we caught Nasser when he had a problem. We followed him for 50 or 60km in the dust. After the neutralisation we broke one drive shaft and we were concerned about (Juan Cruz) Yacopini catching us. But we made P3 so it was a nice rally.”
Juan Cruz Yacopini teamed up with Spanish co-driver Dani Oliveras to confirm fourth overall and the Argentine remains second in the Drivers’ Championship as a result.
Yacopini said: “I am really happy to finish this last stage. We were tidy in the driving and P2 in the stage gave me P4 in the general. The car is in one piece and we felt comfortable in the Hilux.”
The Polish duo of Krzysztof Holowczyc and Lukasz Kurzeja retired their Mini JCW Rally Plus before the final stage, but Michal Maluszńynski and Szymon Gospodarczyk brought the third Mini home in ninth place. Czech veteran Miroslav Zapletal rounded off the top 10 in his Ford F-150.
Denis Krotov began the race lying third in the Drivers’ Championship but the Toyota Hilux driver was disqualified after the opening leg for receiving outside assistance in a restricted zone.
Otavio Sousa finishes sixth overall and wins T3
Brazilian Otavio Sousa and his Portuguese co-driver João Ferreira finished sixth overall in their South Racing Can-Am Maverick and that was sufficient to win the T3 category by 1min 35.9sec and lead the championship standings.
Fifteen crews lined up in the lightweight prototype category for cross-country machines but the Brazilian was the dominant force throughout a challenging race that saw the Lithuanian pairing of Egidijus Valeiša and Mindaugas Varza finish second in an SRT-run Can-Am and Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri round off the podium places with Spanish navigator Oriol Vidal.
Saudi Arabian driver Dania Akeel boosted her title aspirations by finishing fourth, ahead of Dutchman Kees Koolen, who guided his G Rally Team OT3 to fifth following an eight-minute time penalty for a road book infringement.
Defending FIA T3 World Cup Bajas champion Fernando Alvarez came into the weekend leading the championship but the Spaniard struggled at the rear of the field and finished 12th behind team-mate Erik van Loon. The Hungarian duo of Csaba Miklos and Miklos Trebitsch finished seventh and 10th in their Bedu Racing Pro X3s but Santiago Navarro retired his FN Speed Can-Am on the final day.
T4 success for de Sousa Batista
Brazil’s Cristiano de Sousa Batista and Portuguese co-driver Fausto Moto saw off a fierce challenge from Italian rivals, Amerigo Ventura and Mirko Brun, to snatch T4 success on the final stage. Such was the South Racing Can-Am crew’s pace that they also finished fifth in the general classification behind four much more powerful T1+ machines.
De Sousa Batista said: “We needed to make up 1min 30sec on the final stage to win the race and we did a good job. The car was perfect and it was a great day for us.”
Ventura added: “We really pushed from the first kilometre, we changed thousands of gears and we were on the limit on the last stage. We had a good battle with the Brazilian guys. We enjoyed this race a lot.”
Frenchman Jeremie Warnia guided his Polaris RZR Pro R to fourth overall behind Dario de Lorenzo’s Can-Am and lost his outright championship lead as a result. Ricardo Ramilo was fifth but Pau Navarro and Rebecca Busi were non-finishers.
Italian Baja 2023 – result:
1. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 4hr 41min 12.3sec
2. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (AND) Toyota GR DKR Hilux 4hr 50min 40.0sec
3. João Ferreira (PRT)/Filipe Palmeiro (PRT) Mini JCW Rally Plus 4hr 53min 51.5sec
4. Juan Cruz Yacopini (ARG)/Daniel Oliveras (ESP) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 4hr 55min 24.5sec
5. Cristiano de Sousa Batista (BRA)/Fausto Mota (PRT) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo (T4) 5hr 08min 38.7sec
6. Otavio Sousa (BRA)/João Filipe Ferreira (PRT) Can-Am Maverick (T3) 5hr 08min 48.6sec
7. Amerigo Ventura (ITA)/Mirko Brun (ITA) Yamaha YXZ 1000 R (T4) 5hr 09min 43.4sec
8. Egidijus Valeiša (LTU)/Mindaugas Varza (LTU) Can-Am Maverick (T3) 5hr 10min 24.5sec
9. Michal Maluszńynski (POL)/Szymon Gospodarczyk (POL) Mini JCW Rally Plus 5hr 17min 48.7sec
10. Miroslav Zapletal (CZE)/Marek Sykora (SVK) Ford F-150 5hr 20min 17.1sec
T1 unless stated
2023 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas – positions after round 3 of 8 (unofficial):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT) 109pts
2. Juan-Cruz Yacopini (ARG) 74pts
3. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU) 40pts, etc
1. Otavio Sousa (BRA) 75pts
2. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT) 62pts
3. Dania Akeel (SAU) 54pts
4. Fernando Alvarez (ESP) 53pts
5. Kees Koolen (NLD) 51pts, etc
1. Cristiano de Sousa Batista (BRA) 90pts
1. Jeremie Warnia (FRA) 90pts
3. Pau Navarro (ESP) 63pts
4. Ricardo Ramilo (ESP) 58pts
5. Amerigo Ventura (ITA) 34pts, etc