Rajhi creates history, becomes first Saudi driver to win Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge - GulfToday

Rajhi creates history, becomes first Saudi driver to win Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

Yazeed Al Rajhi competes during the final stage of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

Gulf Today, Staff Reporter

Sebastien Loeb extended his lead in the World Rally-Raid Championship as Yazeed Al Rajhi became the first Saudi Arabian driver to win the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on Friday.

In T1, Rajhi started the final stage 10'27" ahead of Martin Prokop in the overall standings, and went on to win the overall race, bringing Toyota its third crown here after wins in 2016 and 2021. Adrien Van Beveren dominated the later stages of the race to take the Rally GP category win, his second since joining Honda, despite only taking fifth place in Abu Dhabi Aviation Stage 5. Luciano Benavides took second overall and Toby Price was third.

Partnered by Fabian Lurquin in the Bahrain Raid Xtreme Prodrive Hunter, Loeb produced a measured drive through the final 206km stage, settling for the second best time on the day to open up a 16-point W2RC advantage over Nasser Al Attiyah.

The Qataris’ exit from the Desert Challenge following a heavy crash on Wednesday paved the way for Rajhi’s outright win in a Toyota. He reached the finish in Abu Dhabi with a cushion of 12 mins 31 secs over Prokop in a Ford Raptor.

After his impressive victory on the penultimate stage, Loeb adopted a safer approach to the final day, knowing that one bad landing could block his path to the finish, and wipe out all points won the hard way this week in the impressive BRX Prodrive Hunter.

While mechanical issues on the opening stage had brought huge time penalties, costing him his chance of a first win in the UAE, the nine-time World Rally Champion is now firmly in W2RC pole position in the Hunter.
Loeb completed final stage to say: “We are at the end of the rally, we finally finished it. Some good points for the championship. That’s the best we could expect when we were unlucky (on stage 1). We just hoped we could still be leading the championship, and we’ve increased our lead, so we’re happy.

2023 has been the one of the safest ADDCs on record with only a small number of medical interventions. President of the FIA Medical Commission and former CMO of EMSO, Sean Petherbridge, commented: “There were seven incidents, with three requiring evacuation by helicopter, and the others presented themselves to the medical team on arrival at the finish. It’s been a safe event overall, and we’ve seen a lower number of incidents than in previous, years which is a reflection on the high quality of the competitors in this race. Also, the weather has been slightly cooler than usual, which has helped in terms of drivers and riders needing to stay well hydrated.

This is really important in the latter stages of each stage and the later part of the race when fatigue is an important factor. I also would like to add that the work of the medical team and the presence of the helicopters and the National Ambulance Service is particularly important when it comes to speedy and efficient intervention. Being able to get to competitors quickly is hugely important in terms of guaranteeing the well-being of all involved.”

Emirates Motor Sports Organisation (EMSO) President, H.E. Khalid Ben Sulayem, commented: “The second world championship edition of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge (ADDC) has been a thrilling journey for everyone concerned, Whether you were here as a competitor, as part of the organisation, or as a spectator, the 2023 edition of the ADDC will remain in our memories for a long time. The combination of skill, action, drama, bravery, and good sporting spirit has marked this year out as an important one in the growth and global awareness of this phenomenal event.

We are so proud of everyone who made it happen. We also extend our respectful thanks to His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the Ruler’s Representative Court in Al Dhafrah Region for their support, hospitality and generosity in making this race such a success.

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