HAIL (SAUDI ARABIA): Fifty-four cars, one truck, 27 motorcycles, 25 quads and 35 additional cars running in a National category will take part in the two Hail Bajas that will run on December 10-12 and 14-16 as the fourth and fifth counting rounds for the 2020 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas running under the ‘Hail Rally Toyota 2020’ banner. .
The Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF) announced the impressive entry on Saturday and competitors are now arriving in the Kingdom from as far afield as Russia, the European Union, Eastern Europe and other countries in the Middle East to tackle the two three-day events over challenging desert routes through the An Nafud desert. Two additional FIA entries will join the field for the second of the Bajas.
Russian driver Vladimir Vasilyev (Mini) and Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke (Toyota) will be locked in a duel to decide the outcome of the Drivers’ Championship, leaving the path clear for several of the world’s top drivers to challenge for outright victories. Ten Brinke currently holds a 1.5-point lead over his rival.
The Germany-based X-raid team has sent four cars to the event, which also offers an ideal opportunity for teams to make a final shakedown of equipment before the Dakar Rally in January.
Defending Dakar champion Carlos Sainz and French legend Stéphane Peterhansel lead the way in their Mini John Cooper Works Buggies. They are joined in the X-raid line-up by the Russian duo of Denis Krotov and Viktor Khoroshavtsev in their respective Mini All4 Racing and Mini JCW Rally.
Toyota Gazoo and Overdrive Racing have sent six cars to Hail as a final shakedown for the Dakar Rally. Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah is a former winner of the Dakar and clinched victory in the Hail International Rally in 2008 and 2011. He leads the way in a South African-built ToyotaHilux and is supported by five Overdrive Racing Hiluxes in the hands of the Dutch duo of Ten Brinke and Erik van Loon, Poland’s Jakub Przygonski and local hero Yazeed Al-Rajhi with Frenchman Ronan Chabot joining the team for the second event.
A five-time former winner of the Hail International Rally, Al-Rajhi is the defending Saudi Desert Rally Championship, having secured the title with victory at the Sharqiya Baja last December.
Main competition to the X-raid and Toyota teams comes from the Czech former WRC driver Martin Prokop, fellow countryman Miroslav Zapletal and the SRT Century Buggies of Saudi driver Yasir Seaidan and Frenchman Mathieu Serradori.
Saudi drivers dominate the lower reaches of the entry with 2020 Hail International Rally winner Saleh Alabdulali, Ahmed Al-Shegawi, Khaled Al-Feraihi and Essa Al-Dossari keen to impress against such a strong international field. There are also FIA entries for the Emirati driver Khaled Al-Jafla and the Kuwaiti duo of Salem Al-Dhafeeri and Mohammed Al-Thefiri.
There is strength across the FIA T2, T3 and T4 categories as well, with 13 Saudi teams aiming for success in the T2 category for series production cross-country vehicles like the trusty Nissan Patrol and Isuzu D-Max.
Six teams will compete for T3 glory: talented young Belgian driver Guillaume de Mevius leads the way in his South Racing Can-Am Maverick X3 and faces competition from local drivers Saleh Al-Saif, Ibrahim Bin Salamah and Abdullah Al-Shegawi, Russian Vasily Gryazin and San Marino-based female driver Camelia Liparoti.
Four Can-Am Maverick X3s and a Yamaha YXZ 1000 are entered in the T4 section. Poland’s Aron Domzala leads the way from Dutchman Kees Koolen, Portugal’s Lorenço Rosa, Qatar’s Khalifa Al-Attiyah (brother of Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah) and Saudi Arabia’s Hamad Nasser.
Ibrahim Al-Mohanna drives the sole Mercedes truck in the T5 category, while 35 Saudi crews and Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri will tackle the National Rally that runs in conjunction with the FIA event. Regular Saudi competitors such as Faris Khalaf Al-Moshna, Sami Al-Shammeri, Ahmed Al-Malki and Yayha Helawi will be hoping to earn success over the two events.
Baja Hail 1 will run over 592 competitive kilometres, while Baja Hail 2 offers 479 kilometres of competition and both Bajas are taking place under the supervision of the Hail Regional Development Authority in co-operation with the General Authority for Tourism and National Heritage and the General Authority for Sport.