HA’IL (Saudi Arabia): The Ha’il Nissan International Rally, Saudi Arabia’s premier motor sporting event, gets underway at the Maghwat conference centre on the outskirts of Ha’il on Thursday afternoon. The ceremonial start will be followed by a brand new 7.8km super special stage, starting at 16.05hrs, at a challenging new location near the city.
The Saudi Arabian Motor Federation (SAMF) has attracted another bumper entry of 47 cars for the five-day motor sporting bonanza, which will then take place over four selective sections in the An Nafud desert to the north and west of Ha’il between Friday and Monday.
Yazeed Al-Rajhi starts as the clear favourite to win the event in the car category for a record fifth time. The Riyadh driver has wheeled out his powerful Hummer once again and teams up with the experienced German navigator Timo Gottschalk, with whom he climbed as high as third overall with a Toyota in last year’s Dakar Rally. Al-Rajhi won in Ha’il in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2015 and will be hoping to take the Hummer to a third win.
“This is my home event and one that is special in my heart and one I always look forward to taking part in,” said Al-Rajhi. “The terrain in this region is fantastic for this type of rallying and is as challenging as anywhere in the world. The event is not easy and we will need to be focused to win this time.”
The event also sees the return to rallying action of the former FIA Middle East Rally Championship regular Hassan Al-Sadadi. The Bahraini driver has been away from the top flight of regional rallying for several years and wheels out a home-built Predator Buggy with Emirati Nooh Buhmaid reading his notes. “It’s great to be back and we are really looking forward to this,” said Al-Sadadi.
Ha’il will also be a useful test for FIA World Cup T2 regular Emil Khneisser, who finished second in the category in last year’s FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup in his Nissan Patrol backed by Nissan Middle East. The Lebanese again teams up with Russian navigator Aleksei Kuzmich for his T2 challenge, where he faces the likes of fellow Nissan drivers, Rajah Farhan Al-Shammeri, Munif Al-Shamani and Niaf Masha Al-Otaibi.
Regional series veteran and Ha’il regular Ahmed Al-Sabban opts to drive a Ford Raptor once again. The Saudi, who burst on to the rallying scene back in 1993 as a member of a Gulf Oil-backed team driving a Group N Ford Escort RS Cosworth, teams up with the experienced Qatari quad rider and navigator Adel Abdullah Hussein. He’s had mixed results in recent Ha’il outings and a top five finish is the goal for the Saudi.
Other international names on the entry list include Qatar’s Sheikh Hamed bin Eid Al-Thani, the 1993 FIA Middle East rally champion and regular FIA World Cup competitor, in his Nissan Patrol, running alongside Jordanian navigator Fares Aloueh. There is also an entry for the all-Kuwaiti crew of Salem and Fares Al-Dhafiri in a Nissan Patrol.
Three entries grace the T3 category. Former quad category winner Atif Al-Zarouni of the UAE drives a Rage, Saudi’s Rakan Yousef Al-Salloum is entered in a Polaris and there is a third car for the UAE duo of Khalid Al-Jaflah and Ahmed Malik.
The remainder of the impressive four-wheel field is dominated by Saudi drivers in a large number of Nissans and Toyotas. There are also categories for motorcycles and quads.
The rally is being staged under the patronage of 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. The SAMF runs under the chairmanship of His Royal Highness Prince Sultan Bin Bandar Al-Faisal and the event is being organised in conjunction with the High Authority for the Development of Ha’il.
The first of the selective sections takes place on Friday and runs for 123.4km from the start at As Sufon to a finish at Camb Al Dol’o. Race officials have laid on a longer loop stage of 216.40km, starting and finishing in Baqa’a on Saturday and that is followed by a timed test of 206.40km between Shot and Jubbah on Sunday and the final selective section of 176.5km starting in Al-Farhaniyah and finishing in Qana on Monday morning.
The ceremonial finish is scheduled for Monday evening.
Ha’il Nissan International Rally – leading starters
- Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Hummer
- Khalaf Jouan Al-Shammeri (SAU)/Jouan Al-Shammeri (SAU) Toyota
- Motair Al-Shammeri (SAU)/Hani Munif (SAU) Nissan
- Sami Al-Shammeri (SAU)/Abdullah Al-Shammeri (SAU) Nissan
- Ahmed Al-Qashimi (SAU)/Waleed Al-Fiuam (SAU) Nissan
- Rajah Farhan Al-Shammeri (SAU)/Mubarak Farhan Al-Shammeri (SAU) Nissan
- Emil Khneisser (LEB)/Alexsei Kuzmich (RUS) Nissan
- Munif Al-Salmani (SAU)/Ali Al-Sayari (SAU) Nissan
- Ahmed Al-Shegawi (SAU)/Arif Yousef Al-Mohammed (ARE) Nissan
- Niaf Masha Al-Otaibi (SAU)/Nader Hamad Al-Daafas (SAU) Nissan
- Meshaal Al-Saeedi (SAU)/Bandar Al-Saeedi (SAU) Nissan