Rajhi in early Dubai Baja lead, Mare top biker - GulfToday

Rajhi in early Dubai Baja lead, Mare top biker

Motorsport

Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi driving his Toyota Hilux Overdrive during the opening leg of the Dubai International Baja on Friday.

Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi dominated the opening leg of the Dubai International Baja on Friday with a stunning drive while UAE-based South African rider Aaron Mare moved within reach of back-to-back bikes victories as the rally entered the motor sport record books.

Reunited with long-time British co-driver Michael Orr, Rajhi took his Toyota Hilux Overdrive into a lead of 21mins 31 secs over fellow-Saudi Yasir Seaidan, accompanied by Aleksei Kuzmich in a Mini John Cooper Works Rally. The UAE’s Khalid Al Qassimi and German Dirk Von Zitzewitz were just four seconds further adrift in third place in an Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR in the second round of the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas for cars.

Ruled out last year because of the coronavirus emergency, the rally is being staged in compliance with strict COVID-19 Protocol, and it made history on Friday as the first FIA World Cup cross-country event to be run on solar power.

Based at Dewa’s Innovation Centre located at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, the event provided a challenging first leg test for drivers and riders on a 192km passage through the dunes and plains of the Al Qudra desert.

With Rajhi taking charge of DEWA’s Innovation Centre Special Stage as he chases a first cars victory in the event, France’s Pierre Lachaume and Loic Minaudier in a PH Sport Zephyr, Pavel Lebedev and Kiril Shubin in a CAN AM Maverick and Claude Fournier with Szymon Gospodqrczyk, also in a CAN AM Maverick, completed the top six.

Lachaume and Minaudier finished the day heading the T3 buggies category while Lebedev and Shubin were winning the race for the T4 title.

Top-seeded Honda rider Mare, returning to action after a 2019 Dakar Rally crash, produced another impressive display as he moved into a 2 mins 20 secs first leg bikes lead over fellow countryman and 2017 winner Mark Ackerman on a Husqvarna, with British KTM rider Sam Smith in third.

The UAE’s Sultan Al Balooshi on a Husqvarna, Jordanian Abdallah Abuaisheh riding a KTM and the UAE’s 2018 winner and World Cup champion Mohammed Al Balooshi on another Husqvarna completed the top six in the opening round of this year’s FIM Bajas World Cup.

Emirati Mansoor Al Suwaidi on a Yamaha YFZ 450 R was a runaway leader of the quads category with a huge lead of 1hr 38 mins 10 secs from Saudi Haitham Al Tuwayjiri on another Yamaha.

“It feels good to welcome back World Cup cross country rallying, especially as we’re setting an example for other events to follow in sustainable motor sport development,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Emirates Motorsports Organization and FIA Vice President for Sport.

Rajhi reached the end of the stage to say: “It was a good day and we drove fast, with Michael doing a good job. We had some technical issues at around 30km and later a puncture. But a good day. And good to have Michael back.”

The event had started without the top-seeded driver and co-driver combination of Denis Krotov and Konstantin Zhiltsov who arrived in Dubai only for their Mini John Cooper Works Rally to be held up by customs formalities in Saudi Arabia following the Dakar Rally.

Among the early casualties were the UAE’s Yahya Al Helei and Khalid Al Kendi whose Nissan Pick Up went out of the rally with mechanical problems.

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