Saudi Arabian driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and his Ulster co-driver Michael Orr guided their Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux to second place at the Hungarian Baja by the narrowest of margins in the history of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas.
The Saudi became embroiled in a fascinating tussle with Polish veteran and former FIA European Rally Champion Krzysztof Holowczyc over the seven challenging stages that made up the route for the Hungarian event through remote countryside north of Lake Balaton.
The two teams traded stage times over the course of the three days and were separated by just 42 seconds heading into the final stage showdown, with Al-Rajhi opening the road. Remarkably, Holowczyc beat the Saudi by exactly 42 seconds on the last special to equal the Toyota Hilux driver’s overall time.
The victory was then decided by FIA rulings governing tie-breaks, as per Article 59.3.2 of the sporting regulations. The ruling states that ‘in the event of a dead heat in an event, the competitor who set the best time on the first selective section, which is not a qualifying stage, will be proclaimed the winner.’
Holowczyc was duly deemed the winner because he had been faster than Al-Rajhi through the first selective section (SS2) on Saturday morning after Al-Rajhi had won the qualifying stage (QS1).
The Saudi’s second place gave him an extended advantage in the FIA European Cup for Cross-Country Bajas and enabled him to close the gap on fellow countryman Yasir Seaidan in the FIA Bajas series’ standings.
“We had a good last stage and we pushed very hard,” reflected Orr. “It was not possible for us to go much faster today. Congratulations to Krzysztof. The time he set was spectacular. He was very fast all the race. It is disappointing for us to come so close at the end but that is racing and everyone is here safely. We will fight back on the next one.
“Maybe we need to start taking times to the tenth of a second in the future to stop this rule. We won stage one but, because this was qualifying, it was not counted and we move to stage two. That’s why he won. Those are the rules. Fair play to him. We could not do much more. It was an interesting race. A lot of it was bumpy and very aggressive for the car and the body.”
The on-stage action began with a super special stage of 7.69km at Várpalota on Friday afternoon.
Al-Rajhi carded a time of 5min 16.1sec and moved 12.6 seconds ahead of Baja series leader and third-placed Yasir Seaidan heading into the opening selective section of 82.39km between Stigibácsi and Gyulafirátót on Saturday morning. Holowczyc slotted into second overall.
After the opening stage, Al-Rajhi said: “We started well and won the Prologue. We took it clean and that was the most important. We were able to choose our position.”
Al-Rajhi gave second best to Holowczyc through the first selective section and slipped seven seconds behind the Pole with Seaidan in third place.
Teams then tackled a shorter 57.84km stage between Sasó and Újmajor before the two specials were repeated in the afternoon following a regroup and service. The Pole won the second one as well and extended his lead over Al-Rajhi to 2min 13sec. Seaidan was a further 2min 27sec adrift in third place.
“The first one we had a clean run and were close to Holowczyc but then we pushed more on the second one and had a puncture on the rear after 15km and we had to stop and change it,” admitted Orr. “Some places it was very bumpy and difficult to find the markers in the windy conditions in open areas with tracks everywhere.”
Al-Rajhi dropped another 33 seconds to the Pole on the fourth special to trail by 2min 46sec heading into the re-run of the shorter selective section. But he was fastest in the last stage of the day by two minutes and moved into a lead of 65 seconds heading into the two remaining tests on Sunday.
Holowczyc cut the Saudi’s lead to 42 seconds on the first of two passes through the 83.30km selective section between Gyulafirátót and Várpalota on Sunday morning with the Saudi opening the road. “It was a good stage for us,” said Orr. “When it’s bumpy we lose a little bit of time, but we have a lead to take into the second pass.”
The Saudi carded a target time of 51min 16sec for the final stage and, miraculously, Holowczyc stopped the clocks in 50min 34sec to tie Al-Rajhi to the exact second. The outcome was then decided by the FIA’s sporting regulations governing tie-breaks, with Seaidan a distant third and Czech driver Miroslav Zapletal coming home in fourth.
The FIA World and European Cups for Cross-Country Bajas continue in Poland at the end of August.