Aliyyah Koloc came a strong fifth in the third round of the FIA Middle East Cup for Cross Country Bajas in Saudi Arabia. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai-born teenager Aliyyah Koloc continued her preparations for the 2023 Dakar Rally by finishing a strong fifth overall in the third round of the FIA Middle East Cup for Cross Country Bajas in Saudi Arabia. Aliyyah finished as the top Middle East car to consolidate her championship lead. She also came second in the T3 category beating most of the participants of the FIA World Cross Country Bajas championship.

The Saudi Baja Hail took place over four days, with Aliyyah making her first cross country rallying start since February when she contested the Jordan Rally for the Buggyra ZM Racing team alongside navigator Sébastien Delauney.

Aliyyah teamed up with a new navigator for Hail, joining forces with another Frenchman, the experienced Stéphane Duplé at the wheel of the Buggyra ZM Racing Can-Am DV21 in the T3 Lightweight Prototype category for the first time.

First event

“The goal here was to get as much experience as possible in preparation for the Dakar next year and to maintain the lead in the FIA Middle East Cup for Cross Country Bajas,” said Aliyyah. “It was my first event with Stéphane also, he’s a really nice guy, and a really good mechanic and navigator, so it will be a really good experience for me.”

The first real test of the rally came on Friday morning, with the 101km stage around Jubbah, north of the rally base in Hail. A slightly longer second stage – at 127km – took the crews back towards Hail as the first leg came to an end. Aliyyah and Stéphane were classified eighth overall and second in the T3 Middle East category, just 1m46s behind the leading class time.

“It was a good day, with no problems,” reflected Aliyyah. “A really fast 230km stage more or less and it was really fast the whole way through on the sand, which was really fun as I like these kinds of surfaces. I felt good with how it went today.”

Morning rain

Two more stages followed on Saturday, with the action focused around Farhaniyah to the west of Hail. Aliyyah made the most of the morning rain and compact sand in the stages to make some more ground, eventually finishing fourth in the stage.

This allowed Aliyyah to record a superb fifth overall in the final results, second in the T3 category and top among the Middle East Cup runners at the finish.

The final event in Aliyyah’s build-up towards the Dakar Rally comes on the opening weekend of December with the Dubai International Baja, which takes place on 1-3 December.

The top five result and ME Cup victory means that Aliyyah has increased her points lead in the Middle East Cup heading into the final round of the year in Dubai with a seven-point margin over her nearest rival.