Saudi Arabia’s top rally driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and his Portuguese co-driver Filipe Palmeiro held a commanding lead of 27.6 seconds after the opening timed 6.63km super special stage at the start of the 2012 Saudi Arabia Ha’il Desert Challenge in north-central Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday afternoon.
Al-Rajhi led the 30-car entry away from the ceremonial start at the Maghwat conference centre in Ha’il in his X-raid Mini All4 Racing, as he bids to become the first driver to win the event for a third time.
The impressive entry for the FIA sanctioned event, being run by the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation (SAMF) under the presidency of His Royal Highness Prince Sultan Bin Bandar Al-Faisal, was flagged away from the start by 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.
Frenchman Thierry Magnaldi and his Spanish co-driver Lucas Cruz Senra held second position in a Toyota FJ Cruiser Proto run by Abdullah Bakhashab’s Toyota Team Saudi Arabia. Qatar’s Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani, the 1993 FIA Middle East rally champion, held third position with UAE-based co-driver Arif Yousef Mohammed and Abdullah Saed Bin Hamden was fourth in a Nissan Patrol.
The UAE’s Yayha Al-Helai and Dubai-based Briton David Mabbs were classified fifth and eighth through the short opening stage in their respective Nissan Patrol and Toyota FJ Cruiser. Regular WRC co-driver Michael Orr, from Northern Ireland, teamed up with Saudi driver Salah Abdul Aal for the first time in a Nissan and the pair held 14th overall after the short stage.
Tomorrow (Thursday) marks the first of the two days of desert action across the An Nafud desert, with a 257.43km special stage on the agenda. The first car is scheduled to leave Ha’il at 08.00hrs for the 99.61km liaison section to the start of the stage at Jubbah from 09.55hrs. A 109.67km liaison guides teams back to the Maghwat conference centre in Ha’il on Thursday afternoon.
Positions after super special stage (unofficial @ 16.20hrs):
1. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (KSA)/Filipe Palmeiro (PRT) Mini All4 Racing 9m 53.9s
2. Thierry Magnaldi (FRA)/Lucas Cruz Senra (ESP) Toyota FJ Cruiser Proto 10m 21.5s
3. Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani (QAT)/Arif Yousef Mohammed (UAE) Nissan 10m 41.8s
4. Abdullah Saeed Bin Hamdan (UAE)/Ali Hassan (UAE) Nissan Patrol 10m 44.9s