Three gladiators of world cross-country rallying will lock horns and battle it out for FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas at this weekend’s Jordan Baja, starting in the stunning Red Sea resort of Aqaba tomorrow (Thursday).No outright wins, but a series of consistent finishes, have given Russia’s Vladimir Vasilyev a slender six-point advantage in the title race after six of eight rounds.
With a best result of the season being second place at the Italian Baja in June, Vasilyev’s and co-driver Konstantin Zhiltsov’s success has come on the back of the reliability of a VRT Rally Team Toyota Hilux, prepared by Overdrive Racing.
In Jordan, however, the crew will switch to one of four older specification X-Raid Minis entered in the FIA category, with both the Russian’s title rivals also running in the same Germany-based team. Because of logistical issues to transport cars and equipment to the Red Sea in a short time frame, the X-raid Minis were shipped to Jordan before Baja Poland and will not return until after the Rally of Morocco.
Argentina’s Orlando Terranova is the man in form. The Mendoza driver stormed into title contention with three successive wins in Italy, Spain, and Hungary this summer and has amassed 90 points to trail Vasilyev by six. A power steering issue cost the former series leader another potential podium at the last event in Poland.
Poland’s Jakub Przygonski is the defending champion in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies and has bounced back into contention to win the Bajas series with second place in Baja Poland at the start of the month. The former enduro rider also won the Dubai International Baja in March and now has an outside chance of securing the title. He trails Vasilyev by 17 points and Terranova by 11.
Thirty points are on offer to the winner in Jordan, with 21 for second, 16 for third and 12 for fourth, so the permutations are endless and it is very likely that the outcome will go down to the final round in Portugal in October.
Victory for Vasilyev on Saturday evening in Aqaba would give the Russian another giant step towards another FIA World Cup title to add to the FIA Cross-Country Rallies success he achieved in 2014, but a win for either Terranova or Przygonski would throw the race wide open. There are several outcomes to take to the final round if Przygonski prevails and his rivals hit trouble.
Two other drivers may have a say in the outcome as well. A fourth of the older specification Mini All4 Racings will be driven by Yasir Seaidan. The Saudi has the pace to win the event outright and will be using the stunning desert terrain in Wadi Rum as a perfect shakedown for the Dakar Rally that takes place in his homeland in 2020.
Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi is no stranger to rallying in Jordan. He won the Jordanian round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) in 2007 and has been on the MERC podium five times. The decision to tackle the Baja will see the Abu Dhabi Racing star crossing Wadi Rum competitively for the first time. The Emirati carried out a test session with French co-driver Xavier Panseri on Tuesday.
“It was a fine day where we tried to find the right balance for the car,” said Khalid. “The terrain is completely different to the last rally a few months ago in Abu Dhabi. It is less sandy, with more fast tracks, lots of canyons and wadis, which requires a different type of driving. We had to make a couple of changes and hope they will work well on the rally.”
His Peugeot 3008 DXR is a proven winner on desert terrain in the hands of the French works team: the two-wheel drive car won on its Dakar competition debut in 2017 with Stéphane Peterhansel at the wheel and Carlos Sainz made it two in a row for Team Peugeot Total the following year.
Overdrive Racing is a Belgian car preparations team and had hoped to team up with Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa to run a car for the Dakar-winning Qatari Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah in Jordan. However, since news broke that double FIA Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso has joined the line-up and is carrying out preparations an assault at the Dakar Rally in January 2020, Toyota’s plans changed.
T3 category front-runner Fedor Vorobyev lies fifth in the Drivers’ Championship points standings, but will be more focused on confirming a first T3 title than challenging the leading quintet in Jordan.
There are two entries in the T2 category for series production cross-country vehicles. Claudiu Barbu drives a Nissan Navara and Saudi Arabia’s Muneef Al-Salmani will be out for showroom class glory in a Nissan Patrol. A win for Barbu would give the Romanian an outside chance of stopping Latvia’s Aldis Vilcans from sealing the T2 title in Portugal. They are currently separated by 43 points with a maximum 50 available to Barbu for two wins.
The Hungarian duo of Balazs Szalay and Laszio Bunkoczi will experience their first taste of the deserts of southern Jordan in an Opel Grandland X. Guy Britton, meanwhile, has made a late switch from a T3 Can-Am to drive a Mitsubishi Pajero at the rear of the field.
Meshari Al-Thefiri leads the privateer GCC entry. A regular competitor and defending champion in the MERC 2 (Group N) category, Al-Thefiri teams up with Qatari navigator Nasser Al-Kuwari to tackle the event in a Nissan Patrol. The Saudi contingent consists of Ha’il International Rally regulars Motab and Majeed Al-Shammeri and Mohammed Al-Twijri.
There is also a National Rally category and a motorcycle section running behind the main FIA event.
In a compact route of 762.68km, 504.62km will be timed against the clock pending any last minute amendments.
Jordan takes another giant step into FIA motor sporting history when it’s first ever round of the Baja series gets underway with a short super special stage close to the centre of Aqaba from 16.00hrs.
This will determine the starting order for the first of the longer selective sections through Wadi Rum on Friday morning and precedes the official pre-event press conference on the start podium and the ceremonial start from 19.00hrs onwards.
Source: NDP Publicity (Neil Perkins)