CC Yazeed Al Rajhi wins Saudi Baja prologue

(Ha'il Rally 2009…The Great Nafud Challenge), January 27th-29th, 2009
For immediate release
Tuesday, January 27th, 2009
·Second place for Zapletal; UAE-based Mabbs wheels out unique Toyota FJ Cruiser
·Local engine enthusiast comes to prologue winner Al-Rajhi's rescue
HA'IL (Saudi Arabia): Saudi Arabia's Yazeed Al-Rajhi and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel set the fastest time on the opening 6.8km prologue stage of the 2009 Saudi Ha'il Baja, which roared into life in north-western Saudi Arabia on Tuesday afternoon.

The event is being held under the patronage of HRH Prince Saud Bin Abdul Mohsen Bin Abdul Aziz, Governor of Ha'il, President of the High Commission for the Development of the Ha'il region and the Head of the Supreme Commission of the Ha'il Rally.

After the traditional ceremonial start at the Maghwat conference facility, teams headed straight into the timed prologue. This was broadcast live by Saudi television and featured a passage through a valley, a section through trees and a tricky wadi crossing to set the tone for the next two days of competition in the Ar Nafud desert region.

The Czech crew of Miroslav Zapletal and Tomas Ourednicek set the second fastest time in a Mitsubishi, with Saudi Arabian driver Ahmed Al-Sheqawi and UAE co-driver Suhail Al-Ali completing the top three at the wheel of a Nissan. Zapletal was 33 seconds behind the flying Saudi driver, who finished second overall in last weekend's Qatar International Rally.

Al-Rajhi faced the possibility of having to tackle the short stage on five cylinders, after a valve guide failed in his Nissan Navara's engine. Belgian team manager Jean-Marc Fortin arranged for a new engine to be flown in to Dubai and on to Saudi Arabia from South Africa, but Al-Rajhi still needed official permission to change the unit before the first leg on Wednesday.

But the Overdrive Racing team hadn't bargained for a Bedouin car enthusiast coming to their rescue. The local had built Nissan Pathfinders in the past and assured Fortin that he could source the necessary engine components from a workshop over 300km away. The necessary part was the same as one used in a Nissan Maxima.

The Navara's engine was duly stripped down and the Saudi returned with the vital components. "It was incredible," said Fortin. "When he said he could help it was a major shock. The engine was rebuilt and we finished at 3am on Tuesday morning. It was a normal Dakar night for us. I think our team still thinks it is on Dakar timing!"

Qatar's Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani and Australian co-driver George Sarayan arrived from Qatar on the morning of the start and were granted a late scrutineering time for their Nissan Patrol. The Qatari set the 16th time on the prologue stage.

Saudi driver Saleh Al-Saleh is competing in the Ha'il Saudi Baja as his reward for being selected at a training session, held at the Toyota Rally School at Durat Al-Arous in north Jeddah. He teamed up with co-driver Amr Refai to set the 30th fastest time on the prologue stage.

The UAE's David Mabbs and French co-driver Xavier Caminada wheeled out a Baja 500 class-winning Toyota FJ Cruiser, which was originally built by Donahoe Racing in the United States at the request of Toyota North America to challenge in the Baja Stock Mini Series category. The Toyota finished second in its class at the Baja 1000 and was acquired through the internet by Mabbs last year.

"It has a standard engine and six-speed manual transmission, but we have had to modify all the safety equipment and seats to comply with FIA criteria," said Mabbs. "We run without the windscreen and we have a pump to ensure we have an air-tight seal for our helmets to prevent the dust. But it also means we have clean air. The car has great suspension and a really strong rear axle, but we have lost some of the suspension travel to adhere to FIA requirements." Mabbs and Caminada set the equal sixth fastest time on the prologue stage.

Tomorrow's (Wednesday) opening desert leg gets underway with a 61km liaison section to the start of a challenging 305km selective section across the Ar Nafud. A 94.85km liaison returns teams to the Maghwat overnight halt. Event officials report that the first 60km of the stage will take place over rough and bumpy tracks, with sand and wadis more prevalent as the route approaches the second passage control.

The special reaches the Al-Ulaim mountain after 155km and the track becomes narrow and winding to the refuelling point at 200.10km. The subsequent 18km could well offer tricky navigation on deceptive sandy trails, although a section of faster, open tracks will bring crews on to better-defined Bedouin trails all the way to the stage finish.

Positions after Ha'il Prologue stage (6.8km):
1. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (KSA)/Matthieu Baumel (F) Nissan Navara   4m 49s
2. Miroslav Zapletal (CZ)/Tomas Ourednicek (CZ) Mitsubishi Pajero  5m 22s
3. Ahmed Al-Sheqawi (KSA)/Suhail Al-Ali (UAE) Nissan Patrol   5m 29s
4. Majed Al-Ghamdi (KSA)/Nicola Arena (I) Isuzu D-Max   5m 31s
5. Abdullah Al-Herais (UAE)/Abdulhaleem Bin Zayed (UAE) Nissan Patrol  5m 33s
6. David Mabbs (GB)/Xavier Caminada (F) Toyota FJ Cruiser   5m 34s
7. Saleh Al-Saedi (KSA)/Mishaal Al-Saedi (KSA) Nissan Patrol   5m 34s
8. Omar Al-Lahim (KSA)/Atef Al-Zarouni (KSA) Chevrolet Tahoe   5m 42s
9. Mohammed Al-Nashmi (KSA)/Haitham Al-Mohamadi (KSA) Nissan Patrol  5m 45s
10. Farhan Al-Ghaleb (KSA)/Abdullah Al-Qanoun (KSA) Nissan Patrol  5m 48s

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, UK Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: ndppublicity@compuserve.com. www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases).

Date issued: 27/01/2009

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