HA’IL (Saudi Arabia): Saudi driver Ahmed Al-Shegawi and his Emirati navigator Arif Yousef Mohammed were the surprise winners of the opening leg of the Ha’il Nissan International Rally on Friday morning.
The Nissan pairing clocked a time of 1hr 26min 05sec on the 123.40km selective section to beat super special stage winners, Yazeed Al-Rajhi and German navigator Timo Gottschalk, by 1min 06sec.
But Al-Shegawi had been slower than his illustrious rivals through Thursday’s short opener and the cumulative time meant that Al-Rajhi maintained a 27-second overall lead in the unofficial results to take into the final three days of Saudi Arabia’s premier motor sporting event.
The four-time winner complained that he had lost his way for a time and also suffered a minor engine issue on his Hummer, although Yazeed will start directly behind Al-Shegawi on Saturday. “It was not the best of days and we didn’t get the stage win, but I’m well placed to push again tomorrow and maintain the overall lead,” said Al-Rajhi.
Lying in an unofficial third overall at the overnight halt is the Saudi Nissan driver Khalid Al-Fraihi, while T2 leader Meshaal Al-Saeedi is fourth, also driving a Nissan. The title sponsoring Japanese car manufacturer has no less than eight cars inside the unofficial top 10.
Friday’s special started 25.71km from Ha’il at As Sufon before finishing at Camb Al Dolo’o, 88.4km from the overnight halt. Although short by Ha’il standards, it was a tricky stage nonetheless and several drivers experienced problems.
After suffering overheating woes on the road section to today’s stage, Bahrain’s Hassan Al-Sadadi failed to start in his Predator Buggy, which he had built himself with backing from Oman’s Nizar Al-Shanfari.
There were delays for former winner Ibrahim Al-Muhanna and Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri, who started the special from third place and was running quickest at one point on the stage until he dropped over an hour with mechanical issues.
Qatar’s Sheikh Hamed bin Eid Al-Thani began the day from second position on the road in his Nissan, but the 1993 FIA Middle East rally champion could not match the pace of some of the local drivers and reached the finish with the 13th quickest time after losing ground over the closing kilometres. The Qatar reached the stage finish 53 seconds in front of Lebanon’s Emil Khneisser in his Nissan Middle East-backed Patrol running in the T2 category. Al-Thani and Khneisser are now 11th and 13th overall.
Ahmed Al-Sabban is celebrating 25 years in motor sport with the number 25 displayed on his Ford Raptor. The Saudi clocked the 20th quickest time on the day’s stage and holds an unofficial 19th overall.
The UAE duo of Khalid Al-Jaflah and Ahmed Malik continued to lead the T3 category in their Yamaha and posted a time of 1hr 39min 48sec. They are 12th overall.
Eight quads and the solitary Honda 450 motorcycle of Ahmed Al-Nasser began the event. Victory on the super special stage to determine the starting order on Thursday afternoon had fallen to Hamad Abdullah Fahad-Hdayyan. He started in front of one of the pre-rally favourites and last year’s quad category winner Abdul-Majeed Al-Khulaifi.
But Al-Khulaifi was not to be denied on this occasion and the Saudi Kawasaki rider won the special. Abdulsalam Rami Hamam was second on a Yamaha quad, but Al-Nasser suffered problems on his two-wheel Honda.
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 competition becomes much more difficult on Saturday, when drivers and riders tackle the longer 216.40km selective section through the An Nafud desert that loops around the start and finish area in Baqa’a. The action gets underway for the cars at 09.45hrs after a 110.2km road liaison section from the overnight halt at the Maghwat conference centre.
Ha’il Nissan International Rally – leading positions after Leg 1 (unofficial @ 11.50hrs):
- Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Hummer 1hr 31min 55sec
- Ahmed Al-Shegawi (SAU)/Arif Yousef Al-Mohammed (ARE) Nissan 1hr 32min 22sec
- Khalif Al-Fraihi (SAU)/Ali Obaid (ARE) Nissan 1hr 41min 38sec
- Meshaal Al-Saeedi (SAU)/Bandar Al-Saeedi (SAU) Nissan T2 1hr 41min 46sec
- Faris Al-Mashna (SAU)/Saud Al-Zayed (SA) Nissan 1hr 41min 50sec
- Ahmed Al-Gashami (SAU)/Waleed Al-Fiuam (SAU) Nissan 1hr 42min 42sec
- Ahmed Abdullah Al-Shehail (SAU)/Rasheed Mslet (SAU) Nissan 1hr 42min 42sec
- Saad Salman (SAU)/Nawaf Al-Anzi (SAU) Toyota 1hr 42min 42sec
- Reza Lefa Al-Shammeri (SAU)/Abdullah Ataiwaan (SAU) Nissan 1hr 43min 09sec
- Rajah Farhan Al-Shammeri (SAU)/Mubarak Al-Shammeri (SAU) Nissan 1hr 43min 31sec
- Hamed bin Eid Al-Thani (QAT)/Fares Allouh (JOR) Nissan 1hr 45min 21sec
- Khalid Al-Jaflah (ARE)/Ahmad Malik (ARE) Yamaha T3 1hr 45min 38sec