Qatar Baja 2023: Stage 1

17/03/2023 8:59pm, Qatar

The past few days have been quite busy with the usual pre-race checks and then the start of racing.

Qatar Baja is the biggest event on the calendar with record entries and some of the fastest Baja Rally riders in the world.

The vets class at Qatar is very strong with quite a few fast Dakar riders. Italian, Cessar Zacchetti, is the one to beat. He has heaps of experience and a few Dakars under his belt.

The Prologue was over a fast track with a lot of very rocky sections. Despite a couple of small mistakes I finished in 21st position overall and 2nd in the vets class. I was very happy with that and it put me in a good position for the start of Stage 1.

My start time was 8:04am, and as our hotel is 30 minutes from the bivouac Katie and I were up early for a nice breakfast.

The liaison section to the start of the stage was only 90km, and by the time I got to the start it was already very warm and windy.

We are given our roadbooks 15 minutes before our start time and with the heavy winds it was quite a challenge get it in to holder. There were a few roadbooks torn to pieces from the wind!

The start of the stage was sandy but with big nasty rocks underneath, and it was challenging trying to avoid a big accident. I started off very conservatively and concentrated on my navigation.

The navigation was by far the hardest I have done in my 5 years of rally racing.

And trying to follow another rider’s tracks was impossible as the wind would blow the sand away immediately, and when there wasn’t sand it was rocky – f*@#$%# rocky.

By the first fuel stop I was feeling very good and had caught and passed many bikes. But just after leaving the fuel stop I had a cable on my trip meter come loose and I lost the ability to adjust my distances.

This becomes a big problem, because if you miss a corner or turn by only a few metres it keeps accumulating.

I managed to catch a small group of riders and we all rode together to the end of the stage. We missed a turn and because of my trip meter issues l lost 20 minutes finding the correct track again.

Despite losing a lot of time I was one of the few riders to make every waypoint and not get any penalties. I finished the stage in 5th place, which puts me in 7th place overall and in the lead of the Vets class going in to tomorrow’s final stage. I have a 7 minute gap over second placed Ola Floene and just over 8 minutes to Cessar Zacchetti in third.

Overall I’ve had a great day. Many riders got badly lost and missed waypoints, and there were a couple of bad crashes which didn’t surprise me considering how rocky and unforgiving the terrain was.