Saudi’s Al-Rajhi clinches Hail International Rally title for 7th time

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Yazeed Al-Rahji secured a seventh career victory in Hail. (Supplied)
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Mohammed Al-Balooshi on his way to victory in the bikes. (Supplied)
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Joao Ferreira won the last stage and finished second overall. (Supplied)
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Saleh Al-Saif finished fifth overall and won the Challenger category. (Supplied)
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Updated 11 February 2024
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Saudi’s Al-Rajhi clinches Hail International Rally title for 7th time

  • Al-Rajhi and co-driver Timo Gottschalk won the Saudi Baja — rebranded as the Hail Toyota International Rally — by 38 seconds

HAIL: Saudi Arabia’s top rally driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi has become a seven-time Hail International Rally winner, clinching his latest title on Saturday by a margin of just 38 seconds in his Toyota Hilux.

An outstanding performance saw Al-Rajhi and his co-driver Timo Gottschalk win the fifth Saudi Baja, now known as the Hail Toyota International Rally.

Leading overnight Al-Rajhi, in his Toyota Hilux Overdrive T1+, unexpectedly lost more than five minutes on Saturday. Fortunately for him he had enough of a gap from Friday to remain in first position.

“I am very happy. It’s a very enjoyable rally and my seventh win,” he said. “It’s always nice to win here. I never expected that I would become a Baja or a cross-country specialist but my first win here opened my eyes to this kind of racing. I enjoy it a lot. Now I am going from the dunes to the Alps for some skiing … and then I will return to racing for the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.”

The Portuguese Joao Ferreira (Mini JCW Rally Plus) had a great finish, winning the special stage on Saturday and moving up to second position in the overall standings, only to lose by the narrow margin of 38 seconds to the winner.

“It was a very enjoyable race,” Ferreira said. “I am not a specialist on dunes and in sand. The competition was very good and I gained a lot of experience from being here.”

The X-Raid Team made some changes to the Mini’s set-up overnight and revised suspension settings enabled the Portuguese to push a lot harder on the last stage.

Argentina’s Juan Cruz Yacopini and his Spanish co-driver Daniel Oliveras were second fastest on Saturday morning and came home in fourth overall on the opening round of the FIA World and Middle East Baja Cups hosted by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation.

Multiple former T3 winner Saleh Al-Saif has only been beaten once in this event since 2020 and the Saudi overcame an early scare and stormed to victory in the Challenger category in his G Rally Team OT3. Partnered by Qatar’s Nasser Al-Kuwari, he finished fifth overall and 11min 41sec clear of his nearest rival Joao Dias in the Santag Racing Can-Am Maverick. Al-Saif was also the top finisher in the FIA Middle East Baja Cup, while Dias topped the FIA World Baja Cup standings.

Dubai-based Alliyah Koloc teamed up with Frenchman Sebastien Delaunay and guided her Red-lined Revo+ to seventh overall and second place among the contenders registered for the FIA Middle East Baja Cup.

The fifth quickest time on the final stage enabled Dania Akeel to displace her former Can-Am team-mate Fernando Alvarez and snatch eighth on her first appearance in an Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux. The Saudi was third of the FIA Middle East Cup contenders and collected valuable points for the Saudi Toyota Rally Championship.

Alvarez and his co-driver Xavier Panseri secured ninth in their South Racing Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR and topped the SSV category. Spaniard Alexander Toril Boquoi finished second and Qatar’s Ahmed Al-Kuwari was third and first of the FIA Middle East Baja Cup contenders. Front drive shaft woes on the opening stage ruined Amerigo Ventura’s chances in his Yamaha.

Fuel pump issues on day one ruined Eduardo Pons’s chance of pushing for Challenger honors in his Taurus T3 Max.

Local driver Majed Al-Thunayyan guided his Nissan Patrol to a useful finish and FIA Middle East Baja Cup points in the Stock category for series production cross-country vehicles.

Mohammed Al-Balooshi rode cautiously to set the fourth quickest time on the last morning but did enough to seal a fourth victory in Hail since 2020 on the opening round of the FIM Bajas World Cup. The MX Ride Dubai man finished the stage 4 min. 34 sec. behind Saudi Abdulhalim Al-Mogheera but won the event by 2 min. 12 sec. on his KTM from his Kuwaiti team-mate Abdullah Al-Shatti. The stage win ensured that Al-Mogheera finished third ahead of Emirati Hamdan Al-Ali.

Al-Balooshi said: “I am very happy to win this rally for the fourth time. I have a perfect record here in Saudi. I have never lost here. Today was very tricky. It was an easy stage but so simple to make a stupid mistake. Our strategy was to bring the bike to the finish line and secure the win. With that we lead the world rankings. I am also proud that the top three are GCC riders, me from the Emirates, Abdullah from Kuwait and Abdulhalim from Saudi Arabia. I am proud to have an all-Arab podium.”

Jordanian Abdullah Abu Aisheh lost vital minutes on the last stage and slipped to sixth place after he received a 15-minute penalty for a route violation. That gifted fifth place to Spaniard Pedro Bianchi Prata after he had overhauled German open-class rider Philip Horlemann. Bahrain’s Salman Farhan came home in eighth and Qatar-based Australian Martin Chalmers and fellow countryman Andrew Houlihan rounded off the top 10.

Haitham Al-Tuwaijri cruised to his third successive victory in the quad category in Hail. The Yamaha Raptor 700 rider finished 1hr 05 min. 15 sec. ahead of Hani Al-Noumesi in his successful quest for FIM Bajas World Cup points. Abdulaziz Al-Shayban finished third.

Abdulaziz Al-Yaeesh (Nissan) won the Saudi National Baja and picked up vital points toward the four-round Saudi Toyota Rally Championship on a stage where runner-up Faris Al-Moshana (Nissan) set the fastest time.


Indian walks from Dubai to Riyadh hoping to meet hero Ronaldo

Updated 20 April 2024
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Indian walks from Dubai to Riyadh hoping to meet hero Ronaldo

  • “I pray to God to make this dream come true and meet Ronaldo”

JEDDAH: A Cristiano Ronaldo superfan has arrived in Riyadh after a grueling walk from Dubai hoping to meet the Al-Nassr star.

After 1,200 km and 36 days of travel mostly across the arid landscape separating the cities, Civin KP arrived in the Saudi capital.

“Finally, I am here in front of Al-Awal Park where Al-Nassr plays (their) official games and I hope I can meet Ronaldo,” he said.

He posted images of himself on Instagram at the stadium where he managed to take a seat at the home team’s bench and walked pitch-side at the 25,000-capacity venue.

“I came all the way from Dubai on foot and crossed all this distance just to pay respect and show my love to the best player in the world,” said Civin, who is originally from the state of Kerala in India.

Ronaldo is one of the most recognizable faces of international football and has fans across the world who enjoy his skills and passion for the game. He signed for the Riyadh club in 2022 after years of playing in Europe’s top leagues.

Civin feels proud to have completed the journey but still awaits the biggest prize.

“The unexpected moment is always sweeter,” he wrote, “hopefully waiting for more.”

A photo with the Portuguese great and an autograph would be a moment of a lifetime, Civin told MBC as he visited the ground.

“I pray to God to make this dream come true and meet Ronaldo,” he said. “I will cherish this moment, if it happens, for the rest of my life.”

On Friday, Civin was able to secure a ticket to watch Al-Nassr beat Al-Fayha 3-1, but unfortunately his hero did not feature as he is serving a suspension.


KL Rahul shines as Lucknow Super Giants beat Chennai Super Kings in IPL

Updated 20 April 2024
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KL Rahul shines as Lucknow Super Giants beat Chennai Super Kings in IPL

  • Innings played key role in pushing Lucknow past Chennai’s 176-6 with six balls to spare.

LUCKNOW: KL Rahul’s solid 82 runs off 53 balls helped Lucknow Super Giants comfortably beat Chennai Super Kings by eight wickets in the IPL on Friday.
Rahul’s time at the crease, which saw him smash nine fours and three sixes, played a key role in pushing Lucknow past Chennai’s 176-6 with six balls to spare.
“I felt that if we bat well, we could chase it down... when your partnership goes on, you can take a few more chances. Glad that it happened,” said Rahul.
Chennai got off to a slightly jittery start after being invited to bat first, losing Rachin Ravindra (zero) and skipper Ruturaj Gaikwad (17) in the first five overs. Ajinkya Rahane looked to steady the side, with the help of Ravindra Jadeja, but fell in the ninth over after racking up a respectable 36 runs off 24 balls.
Lucknow’s clinical bowling restricted Chennai in the middle overs, with Shivam Dube (three) not being able to pop off.
But Jadeja soldiered on for the rest of the game, getting his half-century in the seventeenth over.
Reliable warhorse M.S. Dhoni, who smacked 28 runs off 9 balls, helped Chennai turn up the heat in the last three overs and pushed the team to 176-6.
Lucknow openers Quinton de Kock and KL Rahul set up the chase with a superb 134-run partnership, before de Kock, who hit five fours in his 43-ball 54, fell in the fifteenth over.
Rahul went onto smash an incredible 82 runs off 53 balls before being dismissed in the eighteenth over. A final push by Nicholas Pooran (23) helped seal the victory for Lucknow.
“We lost wickets regularly and were 10-15 short,” said Gaikwad.
“Good to play them again soon, will come back with homework done.”


Saudi Arabia’s PIF signs sponsorship deal with Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament

Updated 19 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s PIF signs sponsorship deal with Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament

  • Agreement is latest in wider partnership with the ATP

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund announced on Friday it had agreed a multi-year deal to sponsor the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament.

The deal is the latest in PIF’s wider tennis partnership with the Association of Tennis Professionals as a Platinum Partner and as the official naming partner of the PIF ATP Rankings.

The fund said the agreement marked its continued investment in growing tennis globally, along with a wider focus on its four sponsorship pillars: inclusivity, sustainability, youth, and technology.

As part of the partnership, PIF will develop a platform to allow tennis fans new and old to engage and train with legendary players and coaches on the ground in Madrid, and youth-focused fan zones.

A statement said: “PIF is committed to providing opportunities for young players across all levels of the game, inspiring participation, enhancing talent discovery and developing new pathways for future generations of tennis players around the world.

“As part of this priority, PIF is engaging local tennis academies in Spain and supporting future players through the PIF tennis bootcamp.”

PIF has also partnered with ATP Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells, Miami and the Nitto ATP Finals, in addition to the Beijing ATP 500 event, and the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by PIF, to be hosted in Jeddah until 2027.


John Catlin sets himself up for victory going into final round of Saudi Open in Riyadh

Updated 19 April 2024
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John Catlin sets himself up for victory going into final round of Saudi Open in Riyadh

  • American shoots men’s course-record 62

RIYADH: John Catlin continued his dominance at the 2024 Saudi Open on Friday as he shot a men’s course-record 62 to open up an eight-shot lead at the top of the leaderboard at Riyadh Golf Club.

The American began the third round one shot ahead of Scott Hend and Haotong Li and signaled his intentions early with two birdies in his first five holes.

It was a special back nine that saw him pull away from the field as six birdies, including two in his final two holes — which also earned him the PIF Moment of the Day — put him in the driving seat for a sixth Asian Tour victory.

Thai favorite Kiradech Aphibarnrat made the biggest move of the chasing pack and will head out with Catlin in the final group on Saturday.

His round of 67 moved him into second place with Wade Ormsby, David Puig, Hend and Li one further back.

If he is victorious on Saturday it will mark back-to-back wins on the Asian Tour for Catlin after he lifted the International Series Macau trophy in March, but the 33-year-old is taking nothing for granted ahead of the final round.

He said: “My game has felt in good shape. Today was just one of those days where the putter just gets hot and it’s like you can’t miss. I kept going and tried to make as many birdies as I could because there are so many good players out here and there are plenty of birdies to be made tomorrow. I knew I had to keep the pedal to the metal.

“Nothing changes tomorrow: the job is not finished. David (Puig) has shown he can shoot some really low numbers and there are a lot of other guys very capable of doing that here.”

It is Catlin’s second trip to Saudi Arabia but his first to Riyadh, and after his record-breaking day he admitted he will be back in the Kingdom whenever he gets the chance.

“I’ve loved it here. The people have been so friendly to me, the facilities are really good and I love the course. I will be back whenever there is a tournament here,” he said.

South African Jaco Ahlers produced the day’s second-best round with his 65 moving him to 7 under par, while LIV Golf star Peter Uihlein catapulted himself up the leaderboard after four birdies in four holes to start his back nine took him to the same score. Uihlein is looking forward to an attacking final round.

He said: “You’ve got to shoot 10 under tomorrow to win — I’m going to try. Hopefully my caddie will let me hit the driver on some holes where I probably shouldn’t, and just have a go.

“I played nicely on the front, but it was a different wind. I felt like the back nine, with the way the wind was, is easier than the first couple of days, so I thought I could make some birdies. I didn’t birdie the 15th or 18th hole, which is disappointing.”

Moroccans Othman Raouzi and Ayoub Lguirati, the two invited Arab golfers who managed to make the cut, endured difficult days and both sit over par heading into the final round.


FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem receives Arab and MENA backing

Updated 19 April 2024
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FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem receives Arab and MENA backing

  • Statement condemns “false allegations” of interference in sporting decisions during 2023 Formula One season

DUBAI: The FIA Members for Sport for MENA region and Arab Council of Touring and Automobile Clubs sub-region have released a statement of support for FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem against what they see as “false allegations” of interference in sporting decisions during the 2023 Formula One season.

“Knowing that Mr. Mohammed Ben Sulayem has been committed to promoting transparency within the FIA since he was elected president of the FIA, his full co-operation with the FIA Ethics Committee and the Compliance department during the 30 days of investigations is highly regarded,” the statement said.  

“The Ethics Committee were unanimous in their determination that there was no evidence to substantiate allegations of interference of any kind involving the FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem and strong evidence beyond any reasonable doubt was presented to support the determination of the FIA Ethics Committee.” 

The statement said that the FIA president was cleared of any wrongdoing over allegations he interfered with the stewards’ decision at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2023, and cleared of any wrongdoing regarding allegations that he attempted to interfere with the track certification process for the Las Vegas Grand Prix 2023.

The statement continued: “The FIA Members for Sport for MENA Region and ACTAC Sub-Region condemn, and at the same time are profoundly disappointed with the unjust and relentless attempt to undermine the integrity of the FIA Leadership by such unfaithful allegations to serve narrow personal agendas, and we strongly encourage the FIA administration to initiate legal actions against those responsible for those allegations against the FIA President. 

“We are confident that Mr. Mohammed Ben Sulayem will continue to serve the FIA and its Members in a transparent manner implementing the FIA Code of Ethics as top priority.

“We also would like to assert our support to Mr. Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s leadership of the FIA and will continue our co-operation with him in his efforts to serve and develop the FIA and its Members,” it said.