HAIL — Action resumes at ‘Hail Rally Toyota 2020’ with the first selective section of Hail Baja 2 in the deserts around Baqqa on Tuesday morning. The event is the fifth and final round of the 2020 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas.
The two days between the Bajas marked a perfect opportunity for some teams to carry out testing and for others to change settings and make revisions to the cars before the resumption of competitive action.
With Bernhard Ten Brinke and Vladimir Vasilyev both needing to be as competitive as possible to fend off a late Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah challenge for the FIA Baja title, strategies were assessed for the coming days and Ten Brinke’s engineers have made some radical changes to his Toyota’s suspension.
As co-driver Tom Colsoul pointed out: “We needed to do something. The car just wasn’t feeling right. We watched some video footage of the first Baja and we could see it didn’t seem to be handling properly. So the team made some big changes to the suspension.” The plan was to carry out a short test today (Monday).
Meanwhile, the Red Bull crews of Al-Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel and Carlos Sainz, Lucas Cruz, Stéphane Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger spent an enjoyable few hours on Sunday afternoon working on a Red Bull promotion with esteemed motion picture helicopter pilot Fred North.
The California-based legend of the skies was responsible for some spectacular television coverage and photography on Hail Baja 1, with his low-flying antics enabling the on-event television crew to get up close and very personal with the action.
Away from his involvement in numerous blockbuster movies, North set the world record for the highest altitude ever achieved in a helicopter — a staggering 12,954 metres above sea level set in South Africa in March 2002.
Twice former DTM champion and triple Race of Champions winner Mattias Ekström will get his first taste of cross-country competition at Hail Baja 2 in one of two new X-raid-developed Yamaha YXZ 1000R Rally prototypes entered in the T3 class.
The Swede said: “This is my first time in Saudi Arabia and my first time to do a race in a side-by-side (T3). I’m really excited to be with X-raid to drive the Yamaha. This is a chance here in Hail for me to prepare for the big challenge, the Dakar. This is the first time the prototype Yamaha will do a race, so it will be a first for both of us in the desert.”
X-raid team director Sven Quandt added: “This is a new project for us. It is aimed at beginners and gentleman drivers who love to go to the Dakar as well in the future. We are running the cars here for the first time.
“No testing, nothing. This, for us, is a pure test and we see what we have to cure until Dakar. We hope not too much. This is an affordable side-by-side. Hopefully if everything works out then, maybe, next summer, you can buy a machine like this.”
Local driver Al-Mashna Al-Shammeri triumphed in the first of the national rallies and the Nissan Pick-Up driver will be aiming to fend off a large Saudi challenge, while Riyadh Al-Shammeri and Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi are expected to resume their duel in the quad category.
‘Hail Rally Toyota 2020’ is taking place under the supervision of the Hail Regional Development Authority in cooperation with the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) and the General Authority for Sport.
The opening selective section of 311.57 km takes place to the north-east of Hail and starts and finishes near the town of Baqqa (one of the smallest governorates by population in the Hail region) after looping through the An Nafud desert.
The first FIA vehicle is due on stage from 09.07hrs, but the motorcycles and quads will leave Hail for the stage start around daybreak with Frenchman Adrien van Beveren looking for a second successive win on two wheels with his factory Yamaha WRF 450. There will be a liaison of 99.10km to the stage start and a return trip of 97.08km to the service park. — SG