Dubai: Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi dominated the opening leg of the Dubai International Baja with a stunning drive on Friday, while UAE-based South African rider Aaron Mare moved within reach of back-to-back bikes victories as the rally entered the motorsport record books.
Re-united with long-time British co-driver Michael Orr, Al Rajhi took his Toyota Hilux Overdrive into a lead of 21 mins 31 secs over fellow-Saudi Yasir Seaidan, accompanied by Aleksei Kuzmich in a Mini John Cooper Works Rally.
The UAE’s Shaikh Khalid Al Qasimi and German Dirk Von Zitzewitz were just four seconds further adrift in third place in an Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR in the second round of the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas for cars.
Ruled out last year because of the coronavirus, the rally is being staged in compliance with strict COVID-19 Protocol, and it made history on Friday as the first FIA World Cup cross-country event to be run on solar power.
Challenging first leg
Based at DEWA’s Innovation Centre located at the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, the event provided a challenging first leg test for drivers and riders on a 192km passage through the dunes and plains of the Al Qudra desert.
With Al Rajhi taking charge of DEWA’s Innovation Centre Special Stage as he chases a first cars victory in the event, France’s Pierre Lachaume and Loic Minaudier in a PH Sport Zephyr, Pavel Lebedev and Kiril Shubin in a CAN AM Maverick and Claude Fournier with Szymon Gospodqrczyk, also in a CAN AM Maverick, completed the top six.
Lachaume and Minaudier finished the day heading the T3 buggies category, while Lebedev and Shubin were winning the race for the T4 title.
Top-seeded Honda rider Mare, returning to action after a 2019 Dakar Rally crash, produced another impressive display as he moved into a 2 mins 20 secs first leg bikes lead over fellow countryman and 2017 winner Mark Ackerman on a Husqvarna, with British KTM rider Sam Smith in third.
The UAE’s Sultan Al Balooshi on a Husqvarna, Jordanian Abdullah Abuaisheh riding a KTM and the UAE’s 2018 winner and World Cup champion Mohammad Al Balooshi on another Husqvarna completed the top six in the opening round of this year’s FIM Bajas World Cup.
Emirati Mansoor Al Suwaidi on a Yamaha YFZ 450 R was a runaway leader of the quads category with a huge lead of 1hr 38 mins 10 secs from Saudi Haitham Al Tuwayjiri on another Yamaha.
Al Rajhi reached the end of the stage to say: “It was a good day and we drove fast, with Michael doing a good job. We had some technical issues at around 30km and later a puncture. But a good day. And good to have Michael back.”
Al Qasimi said: “The first 20km the car was hesitant on the dunes. We tried different ways but kept getting stuck. Because there has been no rain the sand is very soft so we tried to avoid the dunes as much as possible.”
Provisional leading positions after DEWA’s Innovation Centre Special Stage, on Friday: (Cars) 1. Yazeed Al Rajhi/Michael Orr (SAU/GBR)/Toyota Hilux Overdrive (2:40:57.0); 2. Yasir Seaidan/Aleksei Kuzmich (SAU/RAF)/Mini John Cooper Works Rally (3:02:28.0); 3. Khalid Al Qasimi/Dirk Von Zitzewitz (ARE/DEU)/Peugeot 3008 DKR (3:02:32.0); 4. Pierre Lachaume/Loic Minaudier (FRA/FRA)/PH – Sport Zephyr (3:13.43.0); 5. Pavel Lebedev/Kiril Shubin (RUS/RUS)/CAN AM Maverick/T4 (3:23:51.0); 6. Claude Fournier/Szymon Gospodqrczyk (FRA/POL)/CAN AM Maverick (3:28:57.0); 7. Mshari Al Therifi/Ali Hassan Obaid (KWT/ARE)/CAN AM Maverick/T4 (3:43:47.0); 8. Khaleid Al Feraihi/Omar Allahim (SAU/SAU)/Nissan Pick Up (4:04:34.0); 9. Michael Fadel/Craig Tyson (ARE/ARE)/Polaris/T3 (4:25:50.0); 10. Laia Sanz/Lucas Cruz (SPA/SPA)/CAN AM Maverick T4 (4:40:58.0).
(Bikes) 1. Aaron Mare (ZAF)/Honda CRF 450 R (2:37:14.0); 2. Mark Ackerman (ZAF)/Husqvarna FX 450 (2:39:34.0); 3. Sam Smith (GBR)/KTM SX - F 450 (2:41:08.0); 4. Sultan Al Balooshi (ARE)/Husqvarna FC 450 (2:41:36.0); 5. Abdullah Abuaisheh (JOR)/KTM SX-F 450 (2:45:50.0); 6. Mohammad Al Balooshi (ARE)/Husqvarna FC 450 (2:47:26.0); 7. Martin Michek (CZE)/Husqvarna SX F450 (2:52:30.0); 8. Konrad Dabrowski (POL)/KTM SX-F 450 (2:58:53.0); 9. Darko Marasovic (CRO)/KTM SX – F 450 (3:00:04.0); 10. Abdullah Dakhan (ARE)/Yamaha YZ 450 F (3:03:34.0).