Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah kicked off the final Dakar Rally preparations with a hard-fought victory in the Ha’il Baja, the fourth round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies in Saudi Arabia.
This Baja is one of two to be held in Ha’il, which serves as the rest day location for the Dakar in January, and was run over 328 miles across two stages. They were added to a revised Cross Country Baja calendar following the cancellation due to COVID-19 of five originally scheduled events.
Al-Attiyah took his Toyota Hilux to victory by just over six minutes from 2020 Dakar winner Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz’s X-raid Mini John Cooper Works buggy.
Stéphane Peterhansel and new co-driver Edouard Boulanger completed the podium places in the second of the Mini JCW buggies.
Al-Attiyah, who like Sainz is a triple winner of the Dakar, held a slender advantage over his Spanish rival after the first leg of the event on Friday as the pair ran nose to tail for the best part of 24 miles at the end of the Radifah section.
So close was the action that Sainz and Al-Attiyah actually made contact with each on the final stretch to the finish of the stage, which the Qatari won.
Al-Attiyah said: “It was a very good day for us; we started in a good position behind Carlos and we were fighting with him for the last 40km [24 miles].
“We were together, and he touched us two times. We were together all the way. I am happy to win the stage.”
Al-Attiyah then opened the road on Saturday courtesy of being overnight leader but despite the perceived navigational disadvantages of the road order, the Toyota driver – accompanied by long-time co-driver Mathieu Baumel – won the second stage by over three minutes.
A clean stage without drama allowed Al-Attiyah to seal victory over Sainz by 6m10s.
Sainz, meanwhile, was unconcerned about losing time to Al-Attiyah on the second day and is instead concentrating on maximizing the performance from his JCW buggy ahead of the second Ha’il Baja next week.
For Peterhansel, it was an event with mixed emotions following a troublesome opening day in his Mini JCW buggy.
The experienced Frenchman, who holds the record number of victories in Dakar history, suffered a puncture six miles into the first section on Friday, losing him and Boulanger over three minutes, eventually ending the first day just over six minutes adrift of Al-Attiyah.
Peterhansel enjoyed Saturday’s stages – which featured fast tracks and sandy dunes – and was satisfied to emerge from the event with sufficient pre-Dakar testing.
“Today was an interesting stage,” said Peterhansel.
“These two days of racing were interesting with a good level of organization, good roadbook and this is a great opportunity just before the Dakar to do it.”
Local driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi finished just off the podium in fourth aboard his Overdrive Toyota Hilux despite enduring a frustrating Friday during which he was slowed by low tire pressures.
The Saudi driver, alongside German co-driver Ditk von Zitzewitz, who won the Dakar with Giniel de Villiers in 2009, ended up six minutes behind Peterhansel.
Completing the top six at the finish were the contenders for the overall Cross Country Bajas title. Vladimir Vasilyev brought his Mini JCW Rally home fifth, while Al-Attiyah’s points-leading team-mate Bernhard Ten Brinke was sixth in his Toyota Hilux Overdrive.
Result – Ha’il Baja I
- Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Hilux)
- Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (Mini JCW Buggy)
- Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger (Mini JCW Buggy)
- Yazeed Al-Rajhi/Ditk von Zitzewitz (Toyota Hilux Overdrive)
- Vladimir Vasilyev/Dmitro Tsyro (Mini JCW Rally)
- Bernhard Ten Brinke/Tom Colsoul (Toyota Hilux Overdrive)
- Denis Krotov/Konstantin Zhiltsov (Mini All4 Racing)
- Saleh Al-Saif/Laurent Lichtleuchter (Can-Am Maverick X3)
- Erik van Loon/Sébastien Delaunay (Toyota Hilux Overdrive)
- Miroslav Xapletal/Marek Sykora (Ford F-150 Evo)