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PORDENONE (ITALY) – Sunday, July 9:  Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk claimed a dramatic last-stage victory at the Italian Baja, round three of the 2023 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas, when they set the fastest time and Toyota team-mates Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Andorra-based co-driver Mathieu Baumel lost vital minutes with differential issues and slipped to second overall.

Al-Rajhi managed to beat fellow team-mate Juan Cruz Yacopini by 3min 40.7sec on the last stage to secure victory by 9min 27.7sec, but second place for Al-Attiyah means the Qatari strengthens his grip on the Drivers’ Championship with Overdrive Racing well clear in the Teams’ Championship. This was Al-Rajhi’s fourth win in Italy after previous successes in 2014, 2021 and 2022.  Al-Rajhi said: “Sure, we are happy. Timo did a great job and we push like hell and we did it very well. We win this race now and we take the trophy as champions. You must take risks sometimes and sometimes you need some luck.”

Baumel added: “We started the last stage with a good chance to bring the cup back home but, unfortunately, after 10-15km we had an issue with the rear differential and we only had front-wheel drive, so it was really difficult to manage. Nasser did very well but you cannot fight when you have only two-wheel drive, especially in the river beds and water crossings. We finished second in the race and this is good points for the championship and we were able to increase our leads.”

Yacopini and Spanish co-driver Dani Oliveras confirmed a fine fourth overall with the second quickest time on the last stage and the Argentine remains second in the Drivers’ Championship as a result. Yacopini said: “I am really happy to finish this last stage. We were tidy in the driving and P2 in the stage gave me P4 in the general. The car is in one piece and we felt comfortable in the Hilux.”

Overdrive Racing also entered two Hiluxes for Dennis Krotov and Portuguese driver Francisco Barata Barreto and their respective co-drivers, Konstantin Zhiltsov and Carlos Silva. Krotov retired on Saturday evening after a servicing violation and Barata Barreto’s first appearance with Overdrive Racing team ended with retirement on the last stage. Action got underway with a revised Qualifying Stage of 10.07km at Zoppolo and the Overdrive Racing quintet began strongly with Al-Rajhi and Al-Attiyah slotting into second and third overall behind the stage-winning Portuguese João Ferreira. Yacopini finished sixth, Barata Barreto came home in 14th and Krotov stopped the clocks in 26th place. 

Al-Rajhi said: “Everything went well for us on the stage. One corner we make a small mistake and we reverse.” Baumel added: “It was okay but really slippery at the beginning. It was not easy to see the corner hiding in the vegetation.”Competitors then tackle two passes through a 131.24km selective section that started in Pasch and finishes in Dignano and was divided into two sections of 12.02km and 119.19km by a neutralisation zone.

Al-Attiyah and Al-Rajhi were the class of the field and moved to the top of the rankings with the first and second fastest times, the Qatari beating his Saudi rival by 16.1 seconds to lead the Baja by 12.7. Yacopini came home in fourth to hold a similar place in the general classification, while Krotov moved up to sixth place and Barata Barreto dropped back to 31st. Al-Attiyah continued his winning ways on the second pass through the stage and extended his lead over Al-Rajhi to 1min 37.7sec. Fifth place on the stage enabled Yacopini to maintain fourth overall. 

“It was a good stage for us,” said Yacopini. “We had good pace and we did not damage the car. I was happy with the rhythm we had on the second part of the stage. The second loop was better. I will try and maintain this position.”On-stage action concluded with a section of 119.27km between Dignano and Cordenons on Sunday morning that passed through Casa Quaranta and the village of Murlis in the municipality of Zoppolo. Al-Attiyah had been awarded a two-minute time penalty overnight for a road book infringement and differential issues for the Qatari on the last stage enabled Al-Rajhi to move above his rival and snatch victory, with Al-Attiyah and Yacopini reaching the finish in second and fourth.

The next round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies takes place in Spain on July 21st-23rd.