VÁRPALOTA (HUNGARY): Saudi Arabian female driver Dania Akeel completed her first ever European Baja event in second place in the FIA T3 category and duly extended her advantage in the points’ standings in the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas.
Akeel tackled the three-day Hungarian Baja with the experienced French co-driver Charles Cuypers, who also works as the Competitor Relations Officer (CRO) for the Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) on the Dakar Rally.
She teamed up with Team RM Sport of France for the first time to drive a new Mamba side-by-side vehicle that utilises a Moncé Méca concept chassis, Can-Am Maverick X3 mechanical components and KMX suspension. The bodywork was designed by RM Sport in conjunction with Essouvert-based Angély Composites.
Speaking at the finish of the event in Várpalota, Akeel said: “I am very happy to finish second and we got some decent points to add to the championship. Charles and I were perfectly in sync today. He was clear, direct and precise. The surface today was harder and more rocky and we had a slower average speed. But I learned a lot and had a great time.
“This was my first race since Jordan with my new French team, RM Sport. It was great to be back behind the wheel and totally different to the Middle East. It was my first time racing in Europe.”
Cuypers added: “We finished second in the T3 category. Dania drove in a very good way. It was very challenging, very bumpy and danger everywhere. She drove in a way to save the mechanics and be at the end of this race. We improve our speed every stage and our communication in the car. It was a happy experience.”
Akeel’s first taste of European Baja competition came on the 7.69km super special stage at Várpalota on Friday afternoon. The Saudi carded a time of 7min 44.5sec and slotted into third place in the FIA T3 standings behind Spanish rivals Santiago Navarro and Jesus Fuster.
“We had a shakedown in the morning, about 5km, and then we did the Prologue. I was happy with both runs and was getting used to the car on this terrain. It was interesting to see the balance of the car and how the rocks affected it. It was completely different to anything I have done.”
The meat of the action took place over two selective sections, repeated twice, on Saturday and a pair of timed stages on Sunday. The first cross-country challenge started at the village of Stigibácsi and ran for 82.39km to finish at the town of Gyulafirátót in Veszprém County to the north of Lake Balaton. The T3 trio held station with Akeel experiencing her first taste of a full European selective section.
Crews then tackled a shorter selective section of 57.84km between nearby Sasó and Újmajor before the two tests were repeated after a regroup and service. Akeel continued to gain more off-road experience on the narrow and bumpy tracks and consolidated her third place in the FIA T3 standings, despite incurring time penalties for taking a wrong turn.
The Saudi bounced back strongly with competitive times through stages four and five. “We made it,” said a delighted Akeel. “That was the first day done. I’m surprised I have energy but it was such a fun drive, the road was stunning, greenery everywhere, hills up and down, rocks and mud, water, rivers…I learned a lot. I learned that when someone behind is faster, you must stop completely if they cannot find a safe place to pass you because it’s too sandy.”
Akeel set the second quickest time on the first of two passes through the 83.30km selective section between Gyulafirátót and Várpalota on Sunday morning and climbed to second overall when technical issues sidelined Navarro’s OT3 before the final stage.
She safely negotiated the repeat run to confirm a well-earned second place finish on her first ever European Baja.
The next chapter in Akeel’s European Baja adventure takes her to northern Poland at the end of August.
2021 Hungarian Baja – FIA T3 result
1. Jesus Fuster (ESP)/Manuel Macho (ESP) Herrator HRX3 5hr 52min 45sec
2. Dania Akeel (SAU)/Charles Cuypers (FRA) RM Sport Mamba 6hr 37min 12sec
Penalty: +2hr 34min 30sec
Santiago Navarro (ESP)/Marc Sola (ESP) Overdrive OT3 DNF