Defending Pharoans Rally champion Al-Rajhi keen for repeat performance
New centralised bivouac at Tibniya & 5 revised selective sections planned
VILLERS-LE-BOUILLET (BELGIUM): Overdrive Racing has sent three Toyotas Hiluxes to the Pharoans Rally in Egypt and Yazeed Al-Rajhi, Reinaldo Varela and Marek Dabrowski will represent the Belgian team at the fourth round of the 2015 World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies. The event starts out from El Alamein on May 12 and finishes in Cairo on May 16.
Overdrive Toyota drivers currently hold fourth, fifth, eighth and 10th places in the FIA Drivers’ Championship standings. Overdrive team director Jean-Marc Fortin realises the importance of achieving podium finishes on the third of this year’s long-distance cross-country rallies, where the team secured a stunning outright victory last year.
A cruel mechanical failure within sight of the finish of the recent round of the series in Qatar robbed Saudi Arabian Al-Rajhi of second place and a crucial haul of points. He and his German co-driver Timo Gottschalk know that they must try and repeat last year’s winning performance if they are to close the gap on Russian Vladimir Vasilyev at the top of the FIA World Cup points’ standings.
The pair boosted their confidence no end before the Egyptian event by taking an emphatic victory in last weekend’s Rally Jeddah in Al-Rajhi’s native Saudi Arabia.
“Losing out on second overall in Qatar was disappointing for everyone in the team,” said Al-Rajhi. “But that is rallying and we must look forward. Timo and I won here last year and we are confident that we can push hard again and challenge for the top step of the podium.”
Brazilian Reinaldo Varela holds fourth in the championship after his third place in Qatar and he and fellow countryman Gustavo Gugelmin will be aiming for another impressive and consistent finish in the second of the V8-powered Toyotas.
Pole Dabrowski and navigator Jacek Czachor crew the third Team Orlen-backed car and hold fifth in the championship after three rounds. A drive shaft failure deprived the Pole of a podium finish in Egypt last year and dropped him to seventh overall, but Marek showed a useful turn of speed in Abu Dhabi and Qatar in the spring and will also be looking for a podium finish in Cairo.
“We know what we have to do in Egypt and that is a repeat of the performance we had last year with the win,” said Jean-Marc Fortin. “Reinaldo and Marek are inside the top five in the championship and can look to adding to more points towards the FIA World Cup, but we want to try and take the outright victory again. For sure, Yazeed will be pushing for this. Some of the stages are slightly different, but we know the terrain is much the same and we will concentrate on making sure we give a good performance.”
After scrutineering and administration checks at the Mediterranean seaport of Mersa Matruh, 240km west of Alexandria, on May 10 and 11, the event – which has been planned under the patronage of the Automobile Touring Club of Egypt (ATCE) – will run over a modified route through similar terrain. There are five demanding selective sections in the timetable and the rally utilises a centralised bivouac near the Baharija oasis at Tibniya.
The opening special of 228.76km includes a series of sand dunes and runs from the historic WW2 town of El Alamein to Tibniya on May 12, before crews tackle a 343.02km loop section around Tibniya via Sitra on May 13.
Stage three is another loop stage of 284.95km and returns to the bivouac via Farafra on May 14. The penultimate selective section on May 15 leaves Tibniya at 07.00hrs and includes 319.85km of competition through further stretches of treacherous sand dunes in the Egyptian desert.
The final stage of 339.29km follows a winding desert trail to Cairo for the ceremonial finish at the Pyramids in Giza on May 16, although the exact distances of the competitive stages are subject to last minute changes and the onset of any inclement weather conditions.
FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies – positions after round 3:
1. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS) 123 pts
2. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT) 60 pts
3. Erik van Loon (NLD) 52 pts
4. Reinaldo Varela (BRA) 48 pts
5. Marek Dabrowski (POL) 42 pts
6. Miroslav Zapletal (CZE) 36 pts
7. Harry Hunt (GBR) 32 pts
8. Tapio Suominen (FIA) 30 pts
9. Adam Malysz (POL) 28 pts
10. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU) 24 pts , etc