Yazeed Al-Rajhi has leapt into contention to be a front-runner in the race for the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas title after his victory in Dubai last weekend.
The Saudi driver dominated the two-day event in his Overdrive Toyota Hilux and claimed additional bonus points for a pair of stage wins that have catapulted him into an early season duel with defending champion Vladimir Vasilyev at the top of the points’ standings.
This season’s FIA Baja calendar is packed with challenges, but Al-Rajhi has now headed back across the border into Saudi Arabia and will be making preparations to start the defence of his 2019 Saudi Toyota Desert Rally Championship title, the opening round of which is running in conjunction with the Sharqiyah International Baja Toyota, round three of the FIA Baja series, next weekend (March 4-6).
The Covid-19 crisis meant that the Saudi Desert series did not run in 2020, but the Kingdom has already hosted two Hail Bajas and the Dakar Rally this winter and the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF) is putting the finishing touches to the Sharqiyah event that will run through the deserts of the Eastern Province from its base near Modon Lake Park.
While Vasilyev and Al-Rajhi are the early season pace-setters in the FIA Baja Drivers’ Championship, second places in Russia and Dubai for Andrey Novikov and Khalid Al-Qassimi have put them into third and fourth in the title race, with Saudi driver Yasir Seaidan and Boris Gadasin holding fifth and sixth in the rankings.
Gadasin also holds a one-point advantage over Frenchman Pierre Lauchaume in the FIA T3 category, with Anastasiya Nifontova and Michel Fadel tied in third place after their respective second places on the first two rounds.
The FIA T4 section will be one of the most hotly-contested this season, as the FIA Baja series moves on to Saudi Arabia and Jordan in March and then concludes with five European rounds in Spain, Hungary, Poland, Italy and Portugal from July to late October.
Frenchman Claude Fournier claimed maximum points at the Northern Forest RAF Baja and fourth place in Dubai has given the Can-Am Maverick X3 driver 45.5 points and the current series lead.
Dubai Baja winner Pavel Lebedev is second with 27 points, Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri is third on 18.5 points and Spaniard Laia Sanz and Saudi driver Saleh Al-Saif are fourth on fifth with 13 and 11.5 points, respectively.
The Sharqiyah International Baja will be decided over a timed super special stage of 10km on Thursday, March 4th and two subsequent desert selective sections of 220km and 202km on March 5th and 6th.
The route will cross dunes and winding sandy tracks and one leg will start from the seaside in an area previously used at the Sharqiyah Rally, a former round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship.
The event is being organised by a team working under H.R.H. Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, SAMF President and Chairman of the Organising Committee. Entries close tomorrow (Wednesday).