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Al-Rajhi leads after opening super special stage
By Neil Perkins
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 17 - 02 - 2010

Saudi Arabian driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi edged into a slender 1.3-second lead in the 2010 Saudi Arabian Ha'il Baja after the opening 6.2km super special stage at Maghwat on the outskirts of Ha'il Tuesday.
The gravel stage kick-started a new season of action in the FIA International Cup for Cross-Country Bajas and a sizable crowd watched 1995 FIA Middle East rally champion Abdullah Bakhashab and Lebanese co-driver Joseph Matar record the second fastest time of 4m 57.6s in their Toyota FJ Cruiser Proto.
Yazeed Al-Rajhi is being helped by French navigator Matthieu Baumel. This was the competitive debut of Bakhashab's new Latvian-built Toyota FJ Cruiser Proto, which is based on the chassis of the popular Latvian Dakar-type Buggy, is powered by a 4.3-liter Lexus engine and uses a Sadev sequential transmission set-up.
The UAE's Raed Baker and Nabil Ahmadi completed the tricky Maghwat test in third overall in a Mitsubishi L200. Qatar's Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani – regional rally champion in 1993 - held fourth place and Emirati Yayha Al-Helai rounded off the top five.
Dubai-based David Mabbs finished seventh in his Toyota FJ Cruiser. “I thought our Toyota was quite advanced and well modified until I had a closer look at Abdullah's FJ Proto,” said Mabbs. “The cars really are night and day in terms of development and the running gear is completely different.”
Cars were flagged away from the start at the Maghwat conference center in the presence of event patron 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, and Prince Abdullah Bin Khaled Bin Abdullah Al-Saud, the Deputy of the Supreme Commission for Ha'il Development.
The event is being organized by the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation (SAMF) and has been split into two sections to enable eight local drivers to participate, after their cars were deemed not eligible for the international event on technical grounds. Twenty-seven cars duly lined up at the start line of the Ha'il Baja, with the eight local drivers running behind the main event in a national rally, led by Ahmed Al-Shagawi and Nooh Bu Humaid in a Nissan Patrol.
Former event winner Rajeh Al-Shammeri was also entered in the national category with his trusty Toyota Land Cruiser. A close family bereavement in the UK forced Dubai-based Mark Powell to withdraw his Honda Buggy from the main event.
Mishaal Al-Sudairy, president of the SAMF and chairman of the organizing committee, was joined by race director Dr. Saleh Al-Solei and leading Saudi rally driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi in a two-hour visit to the Prince Salman Center for Handicapped Children in Ha'il before the ceremonial start Tuesday.
“This is a way for the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation to raise the awareness of the sport within the local area and give something back to the community,” said Al-Sudairy.
Wednesday marks the first of the two traditional days of selective sections through the An-Nafud Desert. A 60.90-km liaison will guide entrants from Ha'il to the start of the competitive action at Jubbah and a 304.5km special will follow, offering a balance of fast gravel tracks, dunes and sandy sections. The first car will start the stage at 8 A.M. and is expected to reach the finish early afternoon before returning to Maghwat for service at the end of the day. __

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