ALULA: Yasir Seaidan was the early leader of the AlUla–Neom Cross-Country Rally, the third round of the Saudi Toyota Desert Rally Championship, after setting the fastest time of 1hr 47min 08sec on the opening loop stage of 212km around AlUla on Wednesday.
The MINI All4 Racing driver and French navigator François Cazalet won the stage by 5min 45sec from Abu Dhabi Racing Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and French co-driver Xavier Panseri in a Peugeot 2008. “It was a fast stage with nice scenery but we lost a few minutes after 46km and tried hard to catch the time up again,” said Al-Qassimi, a former FIA Middle East rally champion.
Pre-race favorite Yazeed Al-Rajhi lost more time than anticipated trying to change a left rear puncture when one of the bolts wouldn’t free itself. The Toyota Hilux driver finished third with Russian navigator Konstantin Zhiltsov and returned to AlUla 6min 24sec off the lead.
Two-time former FIA Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso quickly got into the groove across the Saudi deserts with navigator Marc Coma and was pleased to complete the day’s action in fourth place, 79 seconds behind his Toyota teammate.
Alonso said: “The first stage in Saudi Arabia was okay for me, over 200km, without any issues and this is a good start for us because we had a lot of problems in South Africa and Morocco. This is good for our preparations. Tomorrow I hope we have a day with a little bit more pace. The terrain today was amazing. It is nice to see it.”
Former Ha’il Rally winner Essa Al-Dossary was the best of the rest in fifth place in his ED Racing Nissan Navara.
Czech Miroslav Zapletal rounded off the top six on the high-speed opening stage of the four-day event being organised by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF), under the chairmanship of Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal and supervision of former FIA Middle East champion Abdullah Bakhashab.
Yousef Al-Suwaidi led the TL2 category for series production cross-country vehicles in 14th place in a Nissan and Saleh Al-Saif topped the T3 standings in 15th at the helm of his Can-Am. Saudi driver Saeed Al-Mouri retired from the day’s action suffering from back pain.
Mishal Alghuneim was the only motorcycle rider to complete the full stage on his KTM in a time of 3hr 07min 42sec. The Saudi built up a massive lead when time penalties were imposed on rivals Mohammed Al-Oraini and Abdullah Al-Helal.
Competition was far closer in the quad category, where recent Rally Qassim winner Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi edged into a 3min 07sec advantage over fellow Yamaha rider Riyadh Al-Orafan. Sufyan Al-Omar was third of the nine quad riders who started the stage. Abdulsalem Hamam crashed and sustained a leg injury and was supported by Nissan driver Ahmed Al-Shegawi at the scene of the incident.
Teams will tackle a second loop of 212km around AlUla on Thursday.
The event is running with the support of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, the General Sport Authority, Abdul Latif Jameel Motors (Toyota), the MBC Group, Al-Arabia outdoors and the Saudi Research and Marketing Group.