Top-class line-up of riders, drivers head for classic battle in Dubai International Baja powered by Nissan and AW Rostamani
There is no better stage for World Cup cross country rallying than the Al Qudra desert which presents a top-class assembly of drivers and riders with a big test this weekend in the Dubai International Baja powered by Nissan and AW Rostamani.
After tonight’s (Thursday) ceremonial start at Dubai Autodrome, the action begins in earnest tomorrow (Friday) morning when a line-up 58 cars, buggies, bikes and quads tackle a demanding route twisting across the dunes and plains.
For the competitors who undertook round one of this year’s FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and buggies, the contrast in conditions could not be greater following last month’s opening battle in the frozen forests of Northern Russia.
Czech Martin Prokop and co-driver Jan Tomanek blasted their way through the snow and ice to grab second place on that occasion, and must now contend with a combination of soft and hard-packed sand as they look to block the victory path of UAE favourite and top-seeded diver, Khalid Al Qassimi.
Partnered by French co-driver Xavier Panseri in a Peugeot Abu Dhabi Racing Team 3008 DKR,
Al Qassimi is aiming to build on his two-wheel title success in last year’s World Cup series, which saw him clinch victory in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
He said “We had a good test in the car. The specs are different than in the Maxi version so we had to run a test to get the feeling. I will be the first to open the road so the challenge will be even tougher and I think the guys behind should be faster.
“The competition is always high here against international and local drivers and we don’t underestimate anyone. I feel I’m ready for the challenge and I’m looking forward to it.”
Twice a Desert Challenge winner in recent years, Russians Vladimir Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov finished just behind the Czechs on home territory last month and have their sights set firmly on a maiden win in Dubai.
Taking place under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, the rally is supported by the Government of Dubai, Dubai Police, Dubai Municipality and the General Authority of Sports. The Nissan Patrol is the official car for the event.
Lying in wait is a fair but formidable 174 km special stage to be negotiated on successive mornings before the contestants reach the finish at Dubai Autodrome, the new Rally HQ, at 5pm on Saturday.
“We have some of the best desert terrain in the world for this type of motor sport and that’s what makes this event so spectacular,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club for the UAE and Emirates Motor Sport Federation, and FIA Vice President for Sport.
The rally doubles up as the opening round of the FIM Bajas World Cup for bikes and quads, and leading Emirati rider Mohammed Al Balooshi is happy to be back in home action after a huge effort to complete the punishing Dakar Rally in January.
While Al Balooshi is the top seed and favourite for a bikes triumph, he will certainly not have an easy time of it on his KTM this weekend, with a cluster of other UAE-based riders among his biggest rivals. They include Shannon O’Connor, Abdulla Bin Dakhan, Mohamed Anis and Frenchman Benjamin Melot who led at the end of the first leg last year but eventually had to settle for second place, 29 seconds behind Dubai-based South African rider Mark Ackerman
Balooshi believes team-mate Mohammed Jaffar from Kuwait could grab a top three place, and also has high hopes for his younger brother Sultan and for Kuwait’s Abdulla Shatti.