Saudi Arabian driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Portuguese co-driver Filipe Palmeiro clinched an emphatic victory in the 2012 Saudi Arabia Ha’il Desert Challenge after the final 148.71km special stage in the An Nafud desert on Friday.
Leading by an amended 15min 52.5sec when original results were re-examined at the overnight halt, Al-Rajhi managed to fulfil his goal of winning Saudi Arabia’s premier off-road event for the third time in front of thousands of spectators who took to the desert route to witness the event draw to a conclusion on a Friday for the first time. The win by a margin of 24min 50.8sec also handed Sven Quandt’s German X-raid team a second victory of the season with the Mini All4 Racing, following Stéphane Peterhansel’s success on the Dakar Rally in January.
“I am delighted to win this rally for the third time,” said Al-Rajhi, before jetting off to Portugal to take part in the SWRC category at the fourth round of the WRC. “I have now won five rallies out of five attempts at events in Saudi Arabia (three Ha’il and two Sharqia rallies). I enjoyed the stage today. We had a puncture at the very start yesterday, but everything was perfect today.”
Frenchman Thierry Magnaldi and Spanish co-driver Lucas Cruz Senra finished second overall in a Toyota Team Saudi Arabia-run Toyota FJ Cruiser Proto. They were never able to match the Mini for outright speed, but it was an excellent showing by the Saudi debutants nonetheless.
Saudi Arabia’s Mtair and Abdullah Al-Shammeri finished third in their Toyota, Safah and Mishaal Al-Saeedi crossed the finish line in fourth overall and Abdullah Saeed Bin Hamden and Ali Hassan rounded off the top five. The UAE’s Yayha Al-Helai slipped to an unofficial eighth position. Qatar’s Sheikh Hamed bin Eid Al-Thani’s retirement on Thursday was caused by clutch problems with his Nissan.
The rally was organised by the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation (SAMF) under the presidency of His Royal Highness Prince Sultan Bin Bandar Al-Faisal and the patronage of His Royal Highness Prince Saud Bin Abdul Mohsen Bin Abdul Aziz, Governor of Ha’il, President of the Supreme Commission for Ha’il Development and the Head of the Supreme Commission of the Ha’il Rally.
An Nafud 2 – Friday
The second leg began at the later time of 14.15hrs and Al-Rajhi led the surviving teams into the varied 148.71km special between As Sufun and Kna and began to pull away from Magnaldi. Al-Saeedi managed to overtake both Mtair Al-Shammeri and Yayha Al-Helai to snatch a virtual third place through the rocky opening sections of the stage. Al-Helai stopped soon afterwards with technical issues and was overtaken by Al-Shaqawi and Bin Hamden before heading off again in his Nissan Patrol.
As the terrain became more open and sandier, Al-Rajhi and Magnaldi continued to edge away from the rest of the field and Bin Hamden re-passed Al-Saeedi to move into third on the stage. Mtair Al-Shammeri was also in fine form and he managed to pass close in on both Bin Hamden and Al-Saeedi as the route skirted a stunning desert escarpment.
Al-Rajhi duly reached the finish amid thousands of spectators to begin celebrating his third victory in Ha’il in three different cars in the space of four years. The Saudi also announced that he will take part in the Sealine Cross-Country Rally in Qatar next month at the wheel of the Mini All4 Racing. Magnaldi held on to a comfortable second position and Saudi’s Mtair Al-Shammeri completed the podium line-up for the ceremonial finish at the Maghwat conference centre on the outskirts of Ha’il.
Final positions after stage two – Friday (unofficial @ 17.25hrs):
1. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (KSA)/Filipe Palmeiro (POR) Mini All4 Racing 5h 35m 28.0s
2. Thierry Magnaldi (FRA)/Lucas Cruz Senra (ESP) Toyota FJ Cruiser Proto 6h 00m 18.8s
3. Mtair Al-Shammeri (KSA)/Abdullah Al-Shammeri (KSA) Toyota 6h 21m 17.8s