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PORDENONE (ITALY): Defending FIA World Cup champion, Vladimir Vasilyev, has joined Overdrive Racing and will tackle this weekend’s 22nd Italian Baja, round five of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, in a Toyota Hilux. 


The Russian currently leads the 2015 FIA World Cup by 35 points and will take the start of the three-day Italian event in a three-car Overdrive team alongside Brazilian Reinaldo Varela and Pole Marek Dabrowski. 


Vasilyev is teaming up with Overdrive Racing for the first time and will be hoping to extend his series lead alongside fellow Russian navigator Konstantin Zhiltsov. He claimed outright victory in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge this season and also finished second in Qatar’s Sealine Rally and the Baja Russian Northern Forest and third in Egypt. Those results have given the Russian 155 points, with Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah his closest challenger on 120. Vasilyev won the Italian event outright in 2012.


“We are delighted to welcome Vladimir and Konstantin to the team and look forward to working with them in Italy,” said Overdrive Racing’s team director Jean-Marc Fortin. “We have a strong line-up for this event and the series of Bajas in Europe over the summer. We have a good record on the Bajas. The slower, desert rallies are behind us and we can hopefully take advantage of the traits of the Hilux to achieve a third successive win in Italy and continue that into the other events over the coming weeks. 


“This is a difficult rally and a lot depends upon the weather forecast. If it rains, it can be very tricky. At the moment, the forecast looks good.”


Dabrowski and navigator Jacek Czachor finished third in Italy last year after a close fight for the final podium position with Vasilyev and have shown consistent form this season in their Team Orlen-backed Hilux. Marek holds equal third in the points’ standings after four rounds. 


The Brazilian duo of Reinaldo Varela and Gustavo Gugelmin complete the Overdrive Racing line-up in Italy. Varela holds equal fifth in the championship standings with Dutchman Erik van Loon and finished seventh in Italy last season after winning the event in 2013. The Brazilian was sixth in Egypt and third in Russia and Qatar so far this season.


Overdrive Racing has also supplied two Toyota Hiluxes to the Russian Aleksandr Zheludov and Kazakh Kanat Shagirov. Zheludov teams up with Anton Nikolaev in a Protech Motorsport-run car and the Mobilex Racing Team will run the Toyota for Shagirov and Alexandr Moroz.


Organised by the Fuoristrada Club 4x4 Pordenone, scrutineering and administration gets proceedings underway on Thursday afternoon (June 25) at the pavilion in Fiera Pordenone and this continues into Friday morning. 


The rally convoy then proceeds to Spilimbergo for the opening 11.8km super special stage - ‘Memorial ‘Caco’ Azzaretti’ - on Friday evening . Action resumes on Saturday morning (June 27) with the second leg from Fiera Pordenone. This comprises two selective sections of 101km between San Lorenzo and Codroipo.


The third leg takes place over demanding gravel trails on the northern Italy flood plains on Sunday and comprises two runs through the 101km special, run in reverse between Codroipo and San Lorenzo. In a total route of 639.70km, there will be 415.80 competitive kilometres.


FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies – positions after round 4:

1. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS)                           155 pts  

2. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)                              120 pts   

3. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)                              66 pts 

3. Marek Dabrowski (POL)                           66 pts

5. Reinaldo Varela (BRA)                              64 pts    

5. Erik van Loon (NLD)                                    64 pts

7. Miroslav Zapletal (CZE)                            56 pts   

8. Harry Hunt (GBR)                                         32 pts

9. Tapio Suominen (FIN)                               30 pts   

10. Adam Malysz (POL)                                  28 pts