ALULA: Yasir Seaidan maintained his outright lead in the AlUla–Neom Cross-Country Rally, but saw his advantage trimmed to 2 minutes 52 seconds by fellow Saudi Arabian Yazeed Al-Rajhi on the second 212 kilometer loop stage through the deserts around Al-Ula on Thursday.
Seaidan had guided his MINI All4 Racing to a lead of 5 minutes 45 seconds at the start of the second day of the third round of the Saudi Toyota Desert Rally Championship, but Al-Rajhi recorded the fastest time of 1:39:40 in his Toyota Hilux; Seaidan came third behind Abu Dhabi Racing’s Khalid Al-Qassimi.
“The stage today was the same as yesterday,” said Al-Rajhi. “I pushed hard and I am happy with my time. After 130 kilometers, I slowed down because of the dust from the car in front. I was in the dust for the last 70 kilometers. Hopefully I can continue like this with this pace on Friday.”
Despite finishing as the stage runner-up, Al-Qassimi slipped a place to third in the overall rankings in his Peugeot 2008, but closed the gap on the leader to 4 minutes, 42 seconds. The Emirati said: “Today was quite fast and tricky. We don’t really have as good a top speed as the other cars. It is a buggy at the end of the day. It is not easy and we took some risks to be on the pace with the other cars.”
The new Spanish pairing of Formula One star Fernando Alonso and Marc Coma continued their learning curve with fourth place for the second day in the second of the Toyota Hiluxes, with Alonso staying clear of trouble to post a time of 1:47:15 seconds that leaves him 11:46 off the lead.
He said: “It was the same as yesterday, but I pushed more and was a bit faster because I have more knowledge of the stage. I am happy with my stage, especially with the first part, where we were 8 seconds behind Yazeed. I got a puncture today but I had more confidence than yesterday. Friday’s stage will be new for everyone and this is the learning curve for me.”
Czech Miroslav Zapletal displaced Essa Al-Dossary and climbed to fifth overall in his Ford F-150 Evo after beating his Nissan rival by 83 seconds on the day’s special.
The best of the rest was Saudi Arabia’s Khalid Al-Feraihi at the helm of his Nissan Patrol and the Saudi climbed to seventh in the rankings with French navigator Stéphane Duplé. Ahmed Al-Shegawi lost over 40 minutes and plummeted from seventh to 21st overall after his car rolled near the finish and he needed outside assistance to complete the day’s selective section.
The Saudi trio of Mutair Al-Shammeri, Mohammed Al-Tijiwri and new TL2 category leader Salman Al-Shammeri rounded off the top 10 of the event, organized 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.
Salman Al-Shammeri now leads the showroom TL2 category by 2:11 from Sallal Al-Dossari.
Saleh Al-Saif climbed a position to 14th in the overall standings and maintained his lead in the T3 section in a Can-Am. Race officials also ran an NUTV class for Can-Am, Yamaha and Polaris derivatives and Yousef Al-Dhaif teamed up with French co-driver Laurent Lichtleuchter to head the category by 25:48 after two stages.
Among the retirements were Mohammed Alabdulali from the NUTV section and Hummer driver Saleh Al-Abdulali, while Ibrahim Al-Muhanna did not start the stage in the T4 truck category.
KTM rider Mishal Alghuneim was the solitary survivor in the motorcycle class after Mohammed Al-Oraini and Abdullah Al-Helal both retired. Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi extended his lead in the quad section to 34:23 after an impressive fastest time that left closest rivals Riyadh Al-Orafan and Walid Al-Shegawi trailing in his wake.
Competitors will tackle a new stage of 231 kilometers from Al-Ula to Neom that will take them through the village of Abu Gazaz on Friday.
The event is running with the support of SAMF, the General Sport Authority, Abdul Latif Jameel Motors (Toyota), the MBC Group, Al-Arabia outdoors and the Saudi Research and Marketing Group.