Hail, 4 February 2023 - Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah and French co-driver Mathieu Baumel cruised into a lead of 12min 05sec after a 230km loop stage through the deserts to the west of Hail on the 2023 Saudi Baja-Hail.
The Qatari stopped the clocks in 2hr 24min 48sec and beat closest rival Krzysztof Holowczyc by 9min 50sec to comfortably lead the Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus driver and his Polish co-driver Lukasz Kurzeja.
Toyota driver Al Attiyah said: “It was good. We did not have a big push. We just wanted to have a day without any problems. We have a good time. We decide last week to do this one and we will do Qatar and, if we have the time, we will do Baja Spain and I would like to do Jordan Baja for the first time and then Dubai.”
Holowczyc had suffered a blow after the opening Prologue stage when it came to light that the Pole had strayed slightly off the designated course and the result was a two-minute time penalty that dropped him to the foot of the rankings at the start of yesterday morning’s timed stage.
Yasir Seaidan was the class of the T3 lightweight prototype category and the Saudi managed to beat defending FIA Bajas T3 World Champion Fernando Alvarez by 6min 17sec to lead the class and hold third overall.
“It was a good stage, the best ever,” said Seaidan.
“We were fast from the beginning and we continued pushing to the end. We didn’t have the top speed but it was a good day and a good start to the Middle East programme.”
Fellow countryman Saleh Al Saif was second fastest in his Team Black Horse Can-Am, despite missing his designated refuelling time because of congestion at the refuelling zone,and slotted into fourth in the overall rankings and second in T3. Dania Akeel climbed through the field to hold sixth place, behind Alvarez, and fourth in T3 in her South Racing Can-Am.
Young Spaniard Pau Navarro and his French co-driver Michael Metge delivered an impressive performance to lead the FIA T4 category in an FN Speed Team Can-Am, while the French duo of Jeremie Warnier and Loic Minaudier were second in a Polaris RXR Pro R. Overnight leader Cristiano Batista lost time with technical issues.
T3 driver Meshari Al Thefiri hit trouble before the stage started. The Kuwaiti said: “After service, we started the road section and, after 25km, the fuel pump died. After 10km, the spare one also died and we came back. We find some connector problem and we didn’t have the parts and, once we had fixed it, it was too late.”
Local driver Saeed Al Mouri was also in trouble. He said: “Unfortunately, at the start of the stage, after 4km, two rocks came through the windshield, the glass broke and the debris came into the car and into my eyes and we could not continue. I discussed with Ata (Al Hmoud) and we decided to stop and continue on Saturday.”
Argentina’s Juan Cruz Yacopini was running strongly early in the stage in the second of the Overdrive Toyotas until he had an accident near the end of the special and slipped to seventh overall.
MX Ride Dubai’s Mohammed Al Balooshi was in a class of his own on the stage in the motorcycle category and the Emirati won on the day by 2min 22sec to move into an overall lead of 4min 57sec over the Prologue-winning Jordanian Abdullah Abu Aishah.
Kuwait’s Abdullah Al Shatti came home in second place on the day and climbed to third, while Al Balooshi’s brother Sultan and Saudi rider Anass Al Rehyani rounded off the overall top five. Australian Martin Chalmers was the best of the non-GCC riders in sixth.
Abdulaziz Ahli increased his lead over Haitham Al Tuwaijri in the quad category by 4min 17sec to 4min 25sec.Hani Al Noumesi was a distant third.