Al-Rajhi trims Seaidan’s lead to set up final day showdown at AlUla-Neom Rally


NEOM — Saudi Arabian driver Yasir Seaidan saw his outright advantage in the AlUla–Neom Cross-Country Rally trimmed to just 1min 14sec on Friday morning’s penultimate competitive section, as the stage-winning Yazeed Al-Rajhi set up the prospect of a thrilling finale on Saturday.

Leading by 2min 52sec at the night halt in AlUla, MINI All4 Racing driver Seaidan and French co-driver François Cazalet sustained a puncture in the first 30km and went on to clock the second quickest time on the penultimate 231km timed section from AlUla to the new city of Neom on a route that passed through the village of Abu Gazaz.

At the helm of a Toyota Hilux, Al-Rajhi and Russian navigator Konstantin Zhiltsov also survived two punctures and recorded a time of 1hr 31min 55sec. They will open the road for their rivals on the final stage.

The Spanish pairing of Formula One star Fernando Alonso and Marc Coma continued their rapid progression with a best stage performance thus far, Alonso clocking the third quickest time of 1hr 33min 50sec to close the gap on Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and Xavier Panseri to 6min 22sec in the battle for the final slot on the podium.

Abu Dhabi Racing’s Al-Qassimi was concerned by a down-on-power engine and was waiting for his engineer to assess any damage before he made a decision as to whether to continue into the final day.

The new Saudi Toyota Desert Rally Championship has attracted fierce competition across all categories. ED Racing’s Essa Al-Dossary continued to trade times with Czech rival Miroslav Zapletal and the Nissan Navara driver managed to regain fifth in the overall classification by beating the Ford F-150 Evo by 65 seconds.

Saudi Arabia’s Khalid Al-Feraihi and French navigator Stéphane Duplé maintained seventh overall in a Nissan Patrol. Mutair Al-Shammeri was eighth and Mohammed Al-Tijiwri and Faris Al-Shammeri rounded off the top 10, the latter setting the eighth fastest time with Jordanian co-driver Musa Djiyerian to continue a rapid climb through the field.

Salman Al-Shammeri held 11th overall and saw his TL2 category advantage over Sallal Al-Dossari increase to five minutes. Yousef Al-Suwaidi was classified in 15th and led the T2 section for series production cross-country vehicles and Saleh Al-Saif dropped time in terms of the overall leader board but stayed on course for the TL3 section win.

Local driver Yousef Al-Dhaif and French co-driver Laurent Lichtleuchter continued to dominate the NUTV class in their Can-Am Maverick X3 from Majed Al-Tiwijri. Mubarak Al-Zubaidi (Toyota) and Ahmed Al-Qashimi (Nissan) retired from the T1 class and joined ED Racing’s Abdullah Al-Huraiz who did not start the day’s stage.

KTM rider Mishal Alghuneim maintained full control of the motorcycle category, although Abdullah Al-Helal did return to competition on Friday morning after incurring massive time penalties on Thursday.

Yamaha’s Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi won a third successive stage in the quad category to increase his lead over closest rival Riyadh Al-Orafan to 56min 30sec.

The final selective section of 175km loops through the deserts around Neom in the northwest of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Saturday morning.

The event is being 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.

It is running with the support of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, the General Sport Authority, Abdul Latif Jameel Motors (Toyota), the MBC Group, Al-Arabia outdoors and the Saudi Research and Marketing Group. — SG