First time in September, first time with a hot ranking, at the penultimate round of the 2021 FIA Bajas World Cup. The Italian Baja of the restart, after a year of stop due to a pandemic, showed all its repertoire of quality and difficulty on the now classic race course, between Meduna, Cosa and Tagliamento rivers
The Race Headquarters, installed at the Centro Ingrosso Interport in Pordenone, already tested in March by the Artugna Race valid for the Italian Championship, worked best for all services, from the race direction to the press office, but above all it was a fantastic container of emotions, friendships, joy and some controversy that was not lacking to keep the off-road company revved up.
The official start on Friday 10 September at 13 o'clock with the Mini John Cooper Works Rally of Yasir Seaidan and Alexei Kuzmich (200) before getting on the platform. The Saudi driver arrived in Pordenone as World Cup leader, targeted by Mohammed Yazeed Al-Rajhi in Toyota Hilkux Overdrive (201) and teammate in the X-Raid Team, Krzysztof Holowczcy with another Mini Works Rally (202).
The Pole, already winner of the Italian Baja in 2010, was the guest star on the eve with his dazzling smile and attack intentions, after the two consecutive victories obtained in August in Hungary and Poland.
A lot of confidence at the start for Sergio Galletti and Giulia Maroni (208) in the Toyota Hilux Overdrive of Renato Rickler’s R Team, at the top of the Italian Championship standings.
And a great show is being prepared thanks also to the side by side challenge. Spotlight on Dania Akeel (300) and her Mamba T3 RM Sport, the first woman, together with compatriot Mashael Alobaidan, to have received a FIA license to race in Saudi Arabia. Tricolor duel between Amerigo Ventura from Turin (406) on Yamaha who also competes for the FIA Cups, and Elvis Borsoi from Treviso (550) on Can-Am, very close to winning the SSV championship.
It is the Meduna riverbed that provides the first sensational surprise in the special stage of just under 8 km. Holowczcy (202) ends up stuck in a ford in the attack and loses a lot of minutes, while Al-Rajhi (201) sets the fastest time ahead of Portuguese Tiago Ries (217) who precedes Seaidan (200).
The gaps in Italian are minimal. Galletti (208) the best in agility, good second Lorenzo Codecà (209) with the Suzuki Grand Vitara of Emmetre Racing, third Riccardo Colombo (213) with the other R-Team Toyota Hilux Overdrive.
Veteran of a thousand battles, Andrea Luchini (601) rules the Suzuki of the Challenge and the T2 tricolor.
It is the Pole Tomasz Bialkowski (556) on Polaris who travels very fast among the SSVs, Ventura (406), with Mirko Brun from Pordenone on the notes, a breath ahead of Borsoi (550).
The selective sector of Dignano, with its almost 75 km on the riverbed of the Tagliamento up to Spilimbergo, strongly marks the gaps. Al-Rajhi (202) is the only one to stay under 60 minutes, still second Reis (217), the third time is for Lithuanian Benediktas Vanagas (205) also on Toyota Hilux, an old acquaintance of the Italian Baja. Holowczcy (202) is still doing badly, a navigation error makes him lose more minutes on the treads.
Super Ventura (406) marks the sixth time overall and is now sixth also in the provisional FIA ranking. Galletti does not force (208), but keeps a good pace.
Observed special Dana Akeel (300), his race serves to give him experience for the next engagements including the Dakar in January 2022.
Commitment and substance for Emilio Ferroni (216) driving a Suzuki Grand Vitara
When it is the turn of the vehicles of the Italian Cross Country and the Italian SSV, the dust on the course creates major problems of visibility as the first lights of the evening fall, the rankings will be decided after the meeting of the stewards of the race direction.
On Saturday morning, 10 September, the Italian Baja has scheduled three passes on the Pasch selective sector for over 92 km, the challenge on the shores of Meduna, Cosa and Tagliamento becomes incandescent.
It is another race for Krzysztof Holowczcy with the Mini Works Rally (202) of the X-Raid team. The Pole attacks in every situation and always gets the best time, lowering the record every time. Instead he does not need to force Al-Rajhi (201): given his advantage, he leads in great control, twice third and once second in the sector, but always with opponents at a safe distance in the general.
Excellent protagonist Tiago Reis (217), second, third and fourth in succession. Toyota domination also certified by the Dutch Erik Van Loon (204), always close to the podium.
In Group T4 FIA, duel between South Racing standard bearers and Can-Am Maverick. Only 5 seconds separate the Saudi Abdullah Alsaif Saleh (400) from the Portuguese Alexandre Re (402) at the finish. Top level performance for Amerigo Ventura (406) who places his Quaddy Yamaha third in the World Cup and first in the Italian SSV.
But the side by side championship rewards Elvis Borsoi (550) with the faithful Stefano Pelloni at the notes. Borsoi was the first to conquer the SSV overall title in addition to the one obtained in the 2017 Italian Cross Country Rally Championship. Satisfied with his third place Valentino Rocco (551), the Italian Baja is all new for him and he juggled very well on a track full of pitfalls.
Imperious performance by Galletti (208), just in case there were any doubts about his leadership of the Italian CCR. Best time in the two passes completed by the national team and victory that seals a season always in command. The multi-champion Codecà (209) has tried to have his say, but the official Grand Vitara that has dominated entire seasons now shows a technical gap compared to the Toyota Hilux, all the more so in a difficult track such as that of the Friulian pebbles which has also rewarded determination by Riccardo Colombo (213). Race 1 of the Italian, corresponding to the stage on Friday 10 September, has put third on the podium, behind Galletti and Codecà, was the tough Andrea Castagnera in a Nissan Navara (501), ahead of Federico Crozzolo from Pordenone (215) on the second Suzuki official. Race 2, or the stage on Saturday 11 September, won by Galletti ahead of Colombo and Codecà, it ended with the sweaty and deserved fourth place Gabriele Seno in a Fiat Pandakar (500) in front of the Andrea Tomasini club. To notice that in the sum of the times of the two stages, not valid for the purposes of the championship Italian, Seno finished third behind Galletti and Codecà.
In the end, the Italian Baja 2021 issued an important verdict for the FIA World Cup, with the victory of Yasir Al-Rajhi (201) who moved to the top of the world rankings before the last round at the Portalegre 500 in Portugal. Triumph of the Toyota Hilux, occupying the first four positions on arrival. Fifth place went to Miroslav Zapletal (203) with his Ford 150 Evo, already second this year in the Artugna Race. The air of Friuli evidently does a lot of good for the nice driver from the Czech Republic.
No handshakes and no pat on the back at the Pordenone Interport for the award ceremony officiated according to the Covid protocol. The pandemic has limited contacts, but not the affection and suggestions of an Italian Baja who is already thinking in style for the new 2022 challenge.
Carlo Ragogna Press Office Italian Baja