Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al Rajhi became the first Saudi Arabian to win the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on Friday. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al Rajhi became the first Saudi Arabian driver to win the gruelling six-day Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on Friday, while Sebastien Loeb extended his lead in the World Rally-Raid Championship.

Al Rajhi and his German co-driver Timo Gottschalk inherited the lead before the start of the penultimate stage through the remote deserts and towering sand dunes of the UAE’s Empty Quarter and the Toyota Hilux driver held his nerve to seal victory by the margin of 12min 31sec from the experienced Czech driver Martin Prokop in a Ford Raptor.

The win catapulted the Saudi into contention for the Drivers’ Championship in the 2023 FIA World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC). The success was Overdrive Racing’s third on the event after wins for Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah in 2016 and 2021.

Difficult Empty Quarter

Al Rajhi said: “This race was not easy. A lot of good drivers have had a crash. It had been difficult for me here before and I knew I had to be clever. Timo, myself and the team had a great plan and we won the race. That was the most important and this is the first time I am winning in the Empty Quarter, dunes and dunes and more dunes. We are very happy.”

Partnered by Fabian Lurquin in the Bahrain Raid Xtreme Prodrive Hunter, Loeb produced a measured drive through the final 206km stage, settling for the second best time on the day to open up a 16-point W2RC advantage over Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah, who pulled out following a heavy crash on Wednesday.

Sebastien Loeb and co-driver Fabian Lurquin of Bahrain Raid Xtreme Prodrive Hunter adopted a cautious approach in the final stage. Image Credit: Supplied

After his impressive victory on the penultimate stage, Loeb adopted a safer approach to the final day, knowing that one bad landing could block his path to the finish, and wipe out all points won the hard way this week in the impressive BRX Prodrive Hunter.

Pole position

While mechanical issues on the opening stage had brought huge time penalties, costing him his chance of a first win in the UAE, the nine-time World Rally Champion is now firmly in W2RC pole position in the Hunter.

Loeb, after completing the final stage, said: “We finally finished it, some good points for the championship. That’s the best we could expect when we were unlucky (on stage 1). We just hoped we could still be leading the championship, and we’ve increased our lead, so we’re happy.

American Seth Quintero in a CAN-AM Maverick X3 claimed the third podium spot in the Desert Challenge, with Argentinian Juan Yacopini in a Toyota, fellow-countryman Sebastian Halpern in a Mini, and the UAE’s Khalid Al Qassimi in another Mini rounding off the top six.

South African Henk Lategan in a Toyota was the final day’s stage winner, and the World Rally-Raid Championship now heads towards its third of five rounds in Mexico in April.