The Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux driver was unable to capitalise on Zapletal’s absence from the recent round of the FIA World Cup in Portugal when a mechanical issue cost him potential victory. But Zapletal returns to action in the north-central Saudi city of Hail in his self-built Ford F-150, as the two fight it out for the Drivers’ Championship.
The Czech’s Slovakian co-driver Marek Sykora is a firm favourite to win the Co-drivers’ title in the absence of Michael Orr. The Ulsterman is still recuperating from an injury sustained in Poland and has been replaced in recent weeks alongside Al-Rajhi by German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz.
There is currently a three-way tie for third place in the Drivers’ Championship between Cristiano de Sousa Batista, Kees Koolen and Fernando Alvarez. They trail Al-Rajhi by 30 points and are also fighting for the FIA T4 and T3 titles in their South Racing Can-Ams.
Alvarez heads to Saudi Arabia with a 45-point advantage over team-mate Dania Akeel in the T3 drivers’ rankings, while De Sousa Batista trails Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri by 18 points in the T4 tussle. Koolen holds third in the T4 title race, albeit 40 points behind Al-Thefiri. Al-Thefiri is also sixth in the overall Drivers’ Championship.
Saudi driver Saeed Al-Mouri and Spaniard Eduard Pons are also registered for T4 points in the FIA World Cup in their Can-Ams.
Alvarez and Akeel face T3 competition from Qatar’s Mohammed Al-Attiyah and Saudi female driver Mashael Al-Obaidan in their South Racing Can-Ams and Saleh Al-Saif in his Team Black Horse Can-Am.
The South Racing Can-Am Team is the overwhelming favourite to add the Manufacturers’ title to the T4 Teams’ title it has already secured. Overdrive Racing trails the South Racing operation by 63 points heading to Hail, while the Nakusi Racing Team is a distant third.
The outcome of the FIA Middle East Cup for Cross-Country Bajas is still wide open. With neither Aliyyah Koloc nor Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah present in Saudi Arabia, local driver Hamad Al-Harbi has the chance to snatch the overall championship lead in his Can-Am Maverick and move ahead of both Aliyyah Koloc and her sister Yasmeen in the T3 rankings.
Italian female driver Camelia Liparoti (Quaddy X21) will go head-to-head with Lithuanian driver Egidijus Valeiša (SRT Can-Am) and Saudi female racer Maha Al-Hamali (Can-Am) for Middle East Cup points in T4. Liparoti currently holds third place in the points’ standings.
Sébastien Delaunay is the favourite to win the Co-drivers’ Championship in the FIA Middle East Cup. The experienced Frenchman sits alongside Khaled Al-Feraihi in Hail in a T1 Nissan Patrol. In the absence of his closest rivals, Delaunay has a perfect opportunity to put one hand firmly on the trophy before the final round in Dubai in December.
This year’s Hail event runs to a compact format with administration, scrutineering checks and the pre-event press conference all taking place on Wednesday (November 8). Thursday afternoon’s ceremonial start (14.00hrs) for the 25-car FIA field is then followed by an 18km Qualifying Stage to determine the starting order for the desert sections over the following two days.
Friday’s action is centred around the city of Jubbah and is split into a pair of selective sections of 101.57km and 128.02km.
Two further timed stages of 84km and 100km take place on Saturday before the prize giving ceremony is the focus in the evening from 19.30hrs.