CC Saudi Hail Baja gets underway on Tuesday afternoon

(Ha'il Rally 2009…The Great Nafud Challenge), January 27th-29th, 2009
For immediate release
Monday, January 26th, 2009
·Czech Zapletal tops international field; Qatar, UAE and British drivers head to Ha'il
·Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Majed Al-Ghamdi head 22-strong Saudi Arabian contingent
·SAMF's Mishaal Al-Sudairy plans an exciting cross-country future in Saudi Arabia
HA'IL (Saudi Arabia): Saudi Arabia's Ha'il Baja gets underway with a timed 6.5km prologue stage on the outskirts of Ha'il City on Tuesday afternoon (tomorrow). The Kingdom's premier off-road motor sport event has attracted 30 starters, with the Czech driver Miroslav Zapletal topping the list of overseas participants issued by the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation (SAMF) at a pre-event press conference at the Maghwat conference facility in Ha'il on Monday afternoon.

The bulk of the competitive action will take place in the Ar Nafud desert to the north of Ha'il on Wednesday and Thursday, with teams set to tackle 499.50 competitive kilometres in a route of 823.24km. The event is being organised under the patronage of HRH Prince Saud Bin Abdul Mohsen Bin Abdul Aziz, Governor of Ha'il, President of the Supreme Commission for Ha'il Development and the Head of the Supreme Commission of the Ha'il Rally.

Czech driver Miroslav Zapletal was one of the stars of the recent Dakar Rally in South America and he and co-driver Tomas Ourednicek head the entry list on this occasion. Zapletal took part in the Ha'il Baja last year and finished fifth overall, but that excellent result was totally eclipsed by his stunning seventh overall in the Dakar in a Mitsubishi L200. There are no FIA Baja points at stake on this occasion, but the Czech driver should be the favourite for outright honours this week in a Mitsubishi Pajero.

Last weekend's Qatar International Rally runner-up Yazeed Al-Rajhi tops the local entry of 22 cars. He has recruited the services of Belgium's Overdrive Racing to supply a powerful Nissan Navara for his first ever Baja-type rally challenge and will be able to call upon the services of French co-driver Matthieu Baumel to assist his challenge for honours. Baumel finished ninth overall in the recent Dakar Rally in an X-raid BMW X3 CC and won last year's Ha'il Saudi Baja alongside Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah.

"I know that this is going to be very different to rallying," announced Al-Rajhi with a hint of trepidation. "I will be relying on my co-driver to show me the way and I will have to learn quickly how to read the dunes and the tracks and not take any risks while I learn how to drive the car."

Saudi Arabia's Majed Al-Ghamdi and Abdullah Al-Dossari will form a two-car team of Isuzu D-Max turbo-diesel-engined cars that were built in Italy. Al-Ghamdi was one of the original young local drivers to be nurtured in the regional rally series by former FIA Middle East champion Abdullah Bakhashab and he will benefit from the experience of Italian co-driver Nicola Arena on the road book. Arena is better known for his rallying exploits with Jordan's Amjad Farrah in the region's special stage championship, while Ghamdi finished a fine second overall in the T2 category of the FIA International Cup for Bajas at his first attempt in 2007.

Other front-running local drivers are likely to include Ahmed Al-Sheqawi, Farhan Al-Ghaleb and a host of entrants from the local Al-Shammeri family, which took victory in the inaugural Ha'il Baja in 2006 and repeated the feat in 2007, with Rajeh Al-Shammeri winning the first ever international status motor sport event in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in his Toyota Land Cruiser.

UAE-based Mark Powell endured miserable luck in last year's Ha'il Baja and UAE Desert Challenge, but the Briton is confident that recent work on his Honda-engined Buggy will pay off and he will be able to challenge for the top five on this occasion with new co-driver Paul Richards who replaces the injured Tim Ansell. The British crew of Ian Barker and Lee Marshal also bolster the UAE challenge, with Dubai-based David Mabbs also on the entry list in a Toyota FJ Cruiser.

The 1993 FIA Middle East rally champion Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani succumbed to transmission woes in last weekend's Qatar International Rally, but Sheikh Hamed prefers longer cross-country-type rallies and is relishing the start of the Ha'il event on Tuesday. The Nissan Patrol driver clinched the FIA Baja T1 title in 2007, has a good track record on UAE national rallies and is a veteran of several UAE Desert Challenges. Likewise, the UAE's Abdullah Al-Herais, Ali Al-Shawi and Matar Al-Matsouri should feature strongly and have useful desert experience.

"Obviously we are not a counting round of the FIA Baja series this year, but interest from competitors and the media proves that our event in Ha'il is going from strength to strength," said Mishaal Al-Sudairy, President of the SAMF, who hosted the esteemed Tunisian Chekib Al-Brahmi, President of the Arab Motorcycle Federation and Vice-President of the African Motorcycle Union, at rally headquarters on Monday.

"This year's event will be a warm-up to an expanded cross-country rally called the Arabian Desert Challenge. We are planning to extend the event to at least four days to be able to benefit from some unique and interesting desert terrain. We know that we could run a Dakar-type event in Saudi Arabia and the whole team is exciting by the prospects for the future of this event in Ha'il, which we hope will run in February 2010. The Dakar is the world's premier event of its kind and has set the standard, but our ambition is to run a cross-country rally to a similar level in the future."

This year's ceremonial start will take place at the Maghwat Conference facility at 15.30hrs on Tuesday afternoon (January 27th) and competitors will head straight into the 6.5km Prologue stage from 15.44hrs. The result of this opening competitive action will determine the starting order for the entry into the Nafud desert.

Leg one of the 2009 Ha'il Baja starts at 07.45hrs on Wednesday morning, with teams set to tackle a challenging 305km selective section through the remote wastelands and expansive dunes of the Ar Nafud desert to the north of Ha'il. The section starts after a liaison section of 61km and a 94.85km transit brings crews back to Maghwat. Event officials have added a refuelling stop at the 200.10km point.

For Thursday's second leg, teams leave parc fermé in Maghwat at 08.00hrs and a 50.39km liaison takes crews to the start of a second 187.7km selective section through the desert. A 117.50km liaison brings teams back to Maghwat and the official ceremonial finish is planned for 17.35hrs.

Top 12 starters
1. Miroslav Zapletal (CZ)/Tomas Ourednicek (CZ)  Mitsubishi Pajero
2. Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani (QA)/George Sarayan (AUS) Nissan Patrol
3. Majed Al-Ghamdi (KSA)/Nicola Arena (I)   Izuzu D-Max
4. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (KSA)/Matthieu Baumel (F)  Nissan Navara
5. Ahmed Al-Sheqawi (KSA)/Suhail Al-Ali (UAE)  Nissan Patrol
6. Abdullah Al-Herais (UAE)/Abdulhaleem Bin Zayed (UAE) Nissan Patrol
7. David Mabbs (GB)/Xavier Caminada (F)   Toyota FJ Cruiser
8. Mark Powell (GB)/Paul Richards (GB)   Honda Buggy
9. Mafadi Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Mohd Al-Shammeri (KSA) Toyota Land Cruiser
11. Mubarak A-Shammeri (KSA)/Yaser Al-Shammeri (KSA) Mitsubishi Pajero
12. Abdullah Al-Dossari (KSA)/Ali Al-Saiyari (KSA)  Isuzu D-Max
13. Ian Barker (GB)/Lee Marshal (GB)   Nissan Patrol


For further media information:
Neil Perkins, 2009 Ha'il Saudi Baja International Press Officer, NDP Publicity Services, Maghwat Conference Centre, Ha'il, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Tel: + 966 6 5439920, Saudi Mobile: + 966 534 573721, UK Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: ndppublicity@compuserve.com. www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases).

Date issued: 26/01/2009

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