DUBAI (UAE) – Saturday, December 3: Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi sealed the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas Drivers’ Championship with outright victory at the Dubai International Baja.
The Saudi overcame first day motion sickness that cost him around 10 valuable minutes to win the second of the weekend’s two selective sections through the Al Qudra desert to guarantee the title and a narrow winning margin of 67 seconds over Overdrive Racing team-mate Lucas Moraes.
Partnered by German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz, Al-Rajhi came into the weekend with a 10-point cushion over Miroslav Zapletal and delays for his Czech rival also aided the Toyota Hilux driver’s cause. It was his second successive victory in Dubai after claiming the win last year with co-driver Michael Orr.
Al-Rajhi said: “Today, we recover some time and everything was going well. We are happy to win the FIA World Cup. That was the most important goal. This season, we had a lot of race unlucky but we are finally lucky.”
Moraes returned to action with Overdrive Racing and new German co-driver Timo Gottschalk, with whom he will tackle the Dakar Rally in January. The Brazilian led after the first day and finished the repeat run of the special that was run in the opposite direction in second position.
Moraes said: “This was my first time here and the first time for me racing in proper desert and dunes. It was a great experience. To be honest, I never thought that I would be fighting for the victory here. The idea was to come here and learn, enjoy and get experience for Dakar. We managed to win the first stage and started to get going. Today was a little bit tricky for me. I got motion sickness twice and had to stop and recover a little for a couple of minutes. The team has been awesome. The goal was to finish and we did that and now we focus on Dakar.”
Dutchman Erik van Loon again teamed up with French co-driver Sébastien Delaunay in the third of the Overdrive Racing Toyotas. He held fourth overall after day one and reached the finish at Dubai Festival City in 24th overall after incurring time penalties following steering arm issues on the final day.
Moraes started superbly and the Brazilian set the fastest time on the opening selective section of 194.40km that started from the camel farming hub of Lisaili on the Dubai to Al Ain highway and crossed the surrounding Al Qudra desert. Moraes beat Van Loon by 6min 53sec and a struggling Al-Rajhi by 10.05sec to give Overdrive Racing a 1-2-3 in T1 after the first day and first, fourth and fifth in the overall rankings.
Von Zitzewitz said: “It was short, soft steep dunes and it was no fun. Many people had problems with their stomach. It was not easy but, somehow, I could manage but then Yazeed got sick. He was throwing up and we needed to stop for eight to 10 minutes so that he have some time and relax. Then we went slowly to the finish. It was no nice racing. The new car was running nicely and we are still beating our main competitor in the championship. He had some problems as well. The outcome was okay but it was not a nice day. A great result for Lucas and Timo to win the stage but I am a little bit worried that we have to do the same stuff again tomorrow in the opposite direction.”
Moraes’s co-driver Gottschalk added: “We discovered on the test that it was going quite nicely between us and he’s a fast guy, Today, he proved that he has a clever speed and he was driving the dunes really nicely. It was hard for the body and the car today. The area is nice for the rally and we have open waypoints for the navigation, so it was a good training.”
The second stage of 195.98km headed out in the opposite direction to finish at Al-Lisaili and Al-Rajhi stormed through to seal outright victory with an impressive stage win. The Saudi beat the struggling Moraes by 11min 10sec, as the Overdrive Racing duo confirmed a 1-2 finish to wrap up another successful FIA season of cross-country racing. The team now switches its attention to running eight cars at the 2023 Dakar Rally, starting on New Year’s Eve in Saudi Arabia.