Yazeed graduates to the major league
January 17 th 2020 - 05:53 [GMT + 3]
True-blue Saudi supporters would have bet the farm on their local hero winning the Dakar on home turf. However, his fourth-place finish in his sixth participation shows that Yazeed Al-Rajhi is coming into his own
The air of eternal teenager, the smirk plastered on his face, the jovial tone and the high-pitched voice —Yazeed Al-Rajhi has everything it takes to pass himself off as the amateur he once was. Matthieu Baumel, now his teammate at Toyota after a four-year stint as his co-driver, remembers how the young Saudi took his first steps in traditional rallies. "He was fast but sorely lacking in every other department, so I thought it would be an interesting challenge to help him hone his skills", recounts Baumel. "The big problem was his reluctance to admit when he had made a mistake. He was always blaming his car, the road book or the co-driver! He has since made steady progress, in part by learning to set himself clearer objectives. Where he once used to race for fun, he now has a very competitive spirit." Al-Rajhi takes no umbrage at the assessment of his career and even volunteers his own point of view: "Compared with my first Dakar in 2015, I'm more experienced and know how to tackle such a long race. Conserving the car is the most important aspect".
Wisdom has become another arrow in Al-Rajhi's quiver. According to Toyota Overdrive boss Jean-Marc Fortin, the Dakar's move to Saudi Arabia may have something to do with all this, as he illustrates with a recent anecdote. "Racing in the Rally Kazakhstan a few months ago, he was running neck and neck with Nasser when he made a mistake and ended up flipping his car over. When that happened, he snapped out of race mode, finished the special without his helmet on, received a heavy penalty and took pictures of his tipped-over car for Instagram thinking that he was out of contention. The next day, Nasser lost 25 minutes due to a mechanical, so [Yazeed] could have won. We talked and it was a wake-up call for him. A short while later, he won the first Saudi Arabian championship, which was very high on his priority list, and started training for the Dakar in earnest". The message got through loud and clear. Yazeed is no longer in contention for the overall but, barring any surprises, he is set to achieve his best result so far when the rally comes to an end in Qiddiya this afternoon. "I'm really happy with fourth place… But, with some luck, I can still move up to third", said an optimistic Al-Rajhi yesterday afternoon before segueing into his role as an inspiration for the world of rally raids in Saudi Arabia. "I know I can open the door for young drivers, especially those who I'm sponsoring and I give advice to so that they can break through." Matthieu Baumel and Jean-Marc Fortin have good reason to be proud of their disciple…