The Saudi Arabian Motor Federation (SAMF) has confirmed that a record 56 competitors will tackle this week’s 10th Ha’il International Cross-Country Rally, which gets underway with the ceremonial start and then a timed super special stage on Thursday afternoon (March 19).
The event will run for a further three days over a trio of gruelling desert selective sections through the north-central region of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and finishes at the Maghwat Conference Centre, near Ha’il, on Sunday (March 22).
“This is the biggest entry we have had in the 10 years of the Ha’il Rally,” enthused Nayef Al-Hejelan, general secretary of the SAMF. “We have six bikes, two quads and almost 50 cars and everything is on track for a superb few days of motor sport.”
Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi starts as the clear favourite to win the event for the fourth time in his trusty Hummer. The Riyadh driver climbed on to the top step of the podium for the first time with former French co-driver Matthieu Baumel in a Nissan Navara in 2009 and repeated the feat with the Frenchman at the wheel of a Mitsubishi Racing Lancer in 2010. His third win came alongside Portugal’s Filipe Palmeiro in a Mini All4 Racing in 2012.
“This is a special event for me and one that I enjoy competing in and I am keen to win,” said Al-Rajhi, who teams up with German navigator and 2011 Dakar and Ha’il winner Timo Gottschalk again this year. “My country is beautiful and this rally crosses some stunning landscapes. It is a great advertisement for the beauty of the desert here in Saudi Arabia.”
Ibrahim Muhanna won the event last year in a Nissan Patrol after Al-Rajhi retired with technical issues and the Saudi returns in a similar car to defend his title. Also featuring on the impressive entry list is the former MERC driver Ahmed Al-Sabban at the wheel of a Saluki Motorsport-prepared Ford Raptor. He will be partnered by Qatar’s Adel Hussein.\
Yayha Al-Helai is one of the most experienced of all the Arab cross-country drivers and is a veteran of numerous Abu Dhabi Desert Challenges and Sealine events in Qatar. He has matched several of the factory drivers through the legendary Rub Al-Khali in the United Arab Emirates over the years and teams up with Khalid Al-Kendi for another attempt at the Ha’il event this week. Al-Kendi arrived in Saudi Arabia straight from steering Yayha’s son Mansoor to two-wheel drive honours at last weekend’s Kuwait International Rally.
The 1993 FIA Middle East rally champion, Sheikh Hamed bin Eid Al-Thani, has entered with Jordanian co-driver Fares Allouh and Lebanese driver Emil Kneisser and his South African team-mate Manie Kruis add that little extra international flavour to an entry that is dominated by Saudi drivers.
Several locals, including Mutab Saud Al-Shammeri, Rajah Farhan Al-Shammeri, Motair Al-Shammeri and Ahmed Al-Ghasami are more than capable of reaching the podium.
Saudi entrants Mohammed Al-Darwish, Sultan Al-Masood, Ahmed Al-Nasser, Abdulaziz Al-Hazlol and Abdulsalem Rami Hamam and the UAE’s Khalid Al-Falaisi ride the six motorcycles and Hamad Al-Hdayan and Abdul Majeed Al-Khulaifi ride the two quad entries.
Final route checks and road book updates were completed by deputy clerk of the course, Ahmed Mutabaghani, last weekend and the FIA-sanctioned event has the full support of the police, medical services and local authorities.
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.
Ha’il International Rally – previous winners
2006 Farhan Ghaleb Al-Shammeri (SAU)/Bandar Al-Sandan (SAU) Toyota Land Cruiser
2007 Rajeh Al-Shammeri (SAU)/Mubarak Al-Shammeri (SAU) Toyota Land Cruiser
2008 Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) BMW X3 CC
2009 Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Nissan Navara
2010 Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Mitsubishi Racing Lancer
2011 Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Volkswagen Race Touareg
2012 Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Filipe Palmeiro (POR) Mini All4 Racing
2013 Miroslav Zapletal (CZE)/Maciej Marton (POL) Hummer
2014 Ibrahim Muhanna (SAU)/Ali Obaid (SAU) Nissan Patrol