Van Loon and Seaidan locked in desert duel at Jordan Baja

March 19, 2021

AQABA — Erik van Loon and Yasir Seaidan were locked in a fascinating duel for supremacy after the first leg of the Jordan Baja, held over a challenging route across Wadi Rum’s majestic desert terrain on Friday.

The Dutchman and the Saudi were separated by just 26 seconds after two timed sections of 210.72km and 112.99km on this fourth round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas.

The Toyota Hilux and Mini John Cooper Works Rally drivers were closely matched throughout the entire opening selective with Van Loon leading through all the checkpoints and going on to win the first stage by 1min 27sec. Seaidan then clawed 61 seconds back in the shorter second desert sprint.

“Two beautiful stages, quite demanding and it was tough work behind the steering,” said Van Loon. “They were nice stages to drive and the road book was okay. The second stage we made a few small mistakes. We had to cross some bumpy stuff but the track went around it and we lost a little.

“The first one we win by one and a half (minutes) and we lose this one by one minute, so only half a minute between us. The problem now is that I have to start in front (Saturday). It is better when he is in front. We managed well — no punctures. Séb did a good job and the car was perfect and two amazing stages. I would love to see those more.”

Seaidan admitted that he lost his way in the second stage and sustained a flat tire in each of the day’s tests.

“It was so difficult, navigation really hard and the stage was tricky and twisty,” said the Saudi. “The stage was beautiful but the time between the two stages was very short. I got lost for a few minutes but I really enjoy it.”

Frenchman Ronan Chabot was a comfortable, albeit distant, third overall in the second of the Overdrive Toyota Hiluxes.

“Beautiful, the country was beautiful,” said the Frenchman. “No problems, but I need to try and find the road. It was difficult for the navigation. We did not get lost. It was okay.”

Five drivers were battling it out for FIA T4 category honours and Qatar’s Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah was the early pacesetter before hitting fuel pump trouble late in the first stage and incurring massive time penalties.

His issues paved the way for Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri to win the Wadi Rum section by 49 seconds from Saudi Arabia’s Saleh Al-Saif. Al-Saif then hit back to win the second stage to take a lead of 2min 46sec back to the night halt in Aqaba.

“Today went well, the second stage was good for us, but we were unfortunate in the first as we collect two punctures,” said Al-Saif.

“I think my performance was good in the second stage. Meshari Al-Thefiri was in front of us and we passed him and made a comfortable margin. It will be important for tomorrow. The stage was very interesting, similar to AlUla and Tabuk, but with some differences. I plan to visit it as a tourist in future.”

Al-Thefiri added: “The stage is excellent generally. I got lost in some places where we were among the first to start, but we enjoyed it more than previous rounds. We treat the Baja as an exercise. Nasser (Al-Kuwari) did a good job and he surprised me with his superb attitude.”

Thomas Bell and Claude Fournier reached the finish in sixth and seventh overall and third and fourth in T4, while Saudi female driver Dania Akeel brought up the rear of the finishers in the FIA field in her Can-Am Maverick X3 entered in the FIA T3 category. She incurred six hours of time penalties for failing to complete all the opening stage.

Emirati Mohammed Al-Balooshi set the pace in the motorcycle category on his Husqvarna 450. The regional off-road riding instructor beat local rider Mohammed Abu Aisheh by 4min 47sec in the opening stage but his riding student redressed the balance in the second one and Al-Balooshi earned an overnight lead of 2min 30sec on this second round of the 2021 FIM Bajas World Cup.

“I’m a little bit rusty to do the navigation without the arrow,” said Al-Balooshi. “It has been a long time, like a year or so, but I am really happy. Me and Abdullah got together at the beginning and we rode together and then I don’t know what happened.

“I had a small tip-over and spend around three minutes stuck under the bike. It’s an amazing place. Abdullah was pushing me. If I win it is a victory, but if he wins it’s also a victory because this should be the aim of any coach. I’m proud of what he is doing.”

Abu Aisheh added: “For me it was a hard route today with more rocks and gravel. I am okay, no crash and difficult navigation but we finished second behind my coach. I am happy with this result.”

Abdulhalim Al-Mogheera was classified in third place and Jordan’s Talat Al-Shishane came home in fourth place.

Aishwarya Pissay was the first retirement in the two-wheel section: the Indian fell off her Husqvarna 450 and was taken to hospital for medical checks after sustaining arm injuries.

Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al-Khater, Jordan’s Zaid Jaber and Kuwait’s Sarah Khuraibet were awarded additional time penalties for failing to complete the longer Wadi Rum stage.

Hani Al-Noumesi continued the run of good form that saw him clinch the win in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province recently and led the quad category on his powerful Yamaha Raptor.

But, like rivals Haitham Al-Tuwayjri and Faisal Al-Suwayh, he incurred hefty time penalties. Al-Tuwayjri only completed 20km of the opening test before the fuel line disconnected and sidelined his Yamaha.

The Saudi Arabian crew of Hamed Harbi and Waleed Al-Shegawi comfortably led the Jordan National Baja in a Yamaha YZR 1000 after five Jordanian and Palestinian rival teams were badly delayed in Wadi Rum.

The event is receiving support from sponsor Zain, the telecommunications provider. Tomorrow (Saturday), the Jordan Baja concludes with a final selective section of 235.82km that loops through the southern desert and starts and finishes in Salhiyah. — SG

March 19, 2021
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