CC Boris Gadasin leads top class field into Saudi Arabian Hail Baja
SAUDI ARABIA HAIL BAJA (Hail Rally 2008…The Great Nafud Challenge), February 11th-14th, 2008
2008 FIA International Cup for Cross-Country Bajas, round 1 of 6
For immediate release
Monday, February 11th, 2008
RUSSIAN GADASIN LEADS TOP CLASS INTERNATIONAL FIELD
INTO SAUDI ARABIA’S FIRST FIA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP EVENT
Qatar’s Al-Attiyah starts as favourite in his official BMW X3CC
Defending champion Al-Shammeri faces formidable entry
HAIL (Saudi Arabia): Russian Boris Gadasin will lead an international field of 47 teams from 13 countries across the start line of the 2008 Saudi Arabian Hail Baja, round one of the FIA International Cup for Cross-Country Bajas, on Tuesday afternoon (tomorrow).
The Russian and co-driver Alexander Mironenko are the top seeds in the three-day rally, although their Overdrive Racing Nissan Navara Pick-Up is sure to come under fierce pressure from Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, the revelation of the 2007 UAE Desert Challenge who set several fastest selective section times in his official X-raid BMW X3CC against the world’s finest drivers from the Volkswagen and Mitsubishi factory teams.
Al-Attiyah arrived in Hail on Monday, fresh from taking a disappointing 40th overall in the wintry conditions of the Swedish International Rally, but the bright sunny conditions that greeted him and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel hide the fact that temperatures drop considerably at night in this part of the Saudi Arabian desert in February. Al-Attiyah is delighted with the progress his Trebur-based team have made with his X3CC and the Qatari is the obvious favourite to win the event.
Czech driver Miroslav Zapletal won last year’s Baja GB and is sure to feature among the fastest times, although he, Dutch driver Toni van Deijne and Hungarian Laszlo Palik will be running across the Nafud desert for the first time and may need time to acclimatise to the type of terrain they will face over the next three days. Zapletal is one of several European drivers planning to tackle each round of the FIA series in 2008.
QMMF president Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah has pushed Qatar motorsport into the spotlight for all the right reasons in recent months, but he is taking a break from frantic World Super Bike and Moto GP commitments to take part in the Hail event with his cousin’s usual Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson.
Nasser Khalifa has over 20 years’ experience in rallying and the stage times he sets in a powerful Land Rover are sure to be compared with those of Lebanese veteran Michel Saleh, who wheels out a similar V8-engined car that is owned by Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum. “I know that a top three finish is a very realistic possibility,” admitted Saleh, who is making his first visit to Hail. “I have a well prepared car and feel confident about my chances.”
The UAE has sent strength in numbers to take part in Saudi Arabia’s first FIA championship event: Yayha Al-Helai is better known for his exploits in the UAE Desert Challenge at the wheel of a Liberty Chevrolet, but he teams up with Khaled Al-Kendi to take part in a Nissan Patrol.
Other UAE representatives include Team Saluki’s Mark Powell, Saleh Said Al-Ahmed, Abdullah Al-Herais, Matar Al-Mansouri, Abdullah Al-Ketbi and Saeed Al-Ketbi, several of whom have been supported by Sheikh Marwan from the Emirates Motor Sports Federation. Meanwhile, Kuwait and Syria are also represented further down the field, with Saleh Bin Eidan flying the Kuwaiti flag in Hail.
Saudi Arabian drivers, understandably, make up the bulk of the entry, with last year’s Hail Baja champion Rajeh Al-Shammeri seeded at four in his new car. Last season the local driver shocked the establishment by pedalling an ageing Pick-Up to victory, but he has a Mitsubishi Pajero at his disposal this season and will be relying on local knowledge as much as outright speed if he is to gain a top five finish on this occasion.
Qatar’s Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani was forced to withdraw his entry on the eve of the start, when his team of mechanics were unable to obtain the relevant paperwork in time for their visa entries into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. “ I could have started I suppose,” said Sheikh Hamed. “But I have a new car that was built at my garage in Doha and I am not sure what would happen if I had a problem and I was stuck in the desert 100km from Hail. It is not a problem for me. I will enjoy the weekend helping my friends and look forward to the rest of the season.”
“I would like to welcome all our overseas visitors to the event this year,” said Mishaal Al-Sudairy, chairman of the organising committee. “We have worked hard to ensure that we exceed the requirements and guidelines laid down by the FIA and wish everyone a safe and successful week’s sport in Saudi Arabia.”
“Recent rains have compacted some of the desert terrain in the north-east, particularly on leg three,” admitted clerk of the course Elie Semaan, who visited Hail as an event steward in 2006. “Leg two has some changes to the route that was used last year, but the final day is very similar. It is over 95% sandy terrain, there are no big rocks and it should be fast and smooth surfaces. Several places are particularly twisty, but the opening leg is well defined - the tracks are used by locals during the year. It is similar terrain to the dunes that were used in the Qatar Baja, but is very different to Tunisia, Morocco or the UAE Desert Challenge.”
Leading drivers and officials attended the pre-event press conference at the Maghwat conference facility on Monday evening, although the ceremonial start will take place at Maghwat at 2pm on Tuesday afternoon. Teams then head into the opening super special stage at 3.30pm across an area of sandy terrain on the outskirts of Hail city centre.
The three-day event is being held under the patronage of HRH Prince Saud Bin Abdul Mohsen Bin Abdul Aziz, Governor of Hail, President of the Supreme Commission for Hail Development and the Head of the Supreme Commission of the Hail Rally and reaches its conclusion on Thursday afternoon (February 14th) at the Maghwat facility.
Leading starters – top 12 only
1. Boris Gadasin (RU)/Alexander Mironenko (RU) Nissan Navara Pick-Up
2. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Matthieu Baumel (F) BMW X3CC
4. Rajeh Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Mohammed Khashoqji (KSA) Mitsubishi Pajero
5. Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB) Land Rover 110
6. Farhan Al-Galeb (KSA)/Abdullah Al-Gonoon (KSA) Toyota Land Cruiser
7. Mofadi Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Mohammed Rubah (KSA) Toyota Land Cruiser
8. Michel Saleh (RL)/Joseph Matar (RL) Land Rover 110
9. Wolfgang Wels (D)/Carsten Sodemann (D) Mitsubishi Pajero
10. Laszlo Palik (H)/Gabor Darazsi (H) Nissan Navara Pick-Up
11. Yayha Al-Helai (UAE)/Khaled Al-Kendi (UAE) Nissan Patrol
12. Miroslav Zapletal (CZ)/Miloslav Janacek (CZ) Mitsubishi L200
14. Turki Al-Sudayri (KSA)/Mustafa Qadado (RL) Mitsubishi Pajero
Note to editors:
The Al-Nafud desert is sometimes called the Great Nafud and covers northern Saudi Arabia for about 25,000 square miles (64,000 square kilometres). The reddish, sandy region (iron oxide gives the sand a red tint) lies at an elevation of 3,000 feet (900 metres) and also has areas of water and grass for nomadic herding and agriculture. The desert has been a barrier to travel for ages, but improved road infrastructure links with the north are under development.
Saudi Arabia’s other major desert is the Rub Al-Khali (Empty Quarter), which hosts the UAE Desert Challenge across the border in Abu Dhabi, and spans an area of 250,000 square miles (650,000 square km). It is one of the most forboding regions in the world and was largely unexplored until the 1950s. A third, smaller region of sand is the Ad Dahna, a narrow band of sand mountains south of the Great Nafud.
Hail (pronounced Hi’il) is an oasis city in Nejd in north-western Saudi Arabia. It is the capital of the province of the same name and has a growing population of around 280,000. It is a largely agricultural region with grain (particularly wheat), date and fruit production. The city is surrounded by the Jabal Shammar mountain range. Water from the rocky massif collects on the granite valley floor under a layer of soil to provide a natural oasis for agricultural requirements.
Traditionally Hail derived its wealth from being on the camel (caravan) route of the Hajj pilgrimage from Mesopotamia, Persia and the Levant. It was built 1200 years ago and named after the wife of Abbasid Caliph Harun Al-Rashid. Hail is situated 300km from Buraydah, 640km from the capital Riyadh and 400km from Madina.
For further media information:
Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, 2008 Hail Saudi Baja International Press Officer, Maghwat Conference Centre, Hail, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Tel: + 966 6 535 1456, Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases).