The stage is set for a fascinating battle of power and tactical duelling when the Dubai International Baja powered by AW Rostamani and Nissan launches the UAE’s second World Cup cross country rally across the dunes and plains of the Al Qudra desert this weekend.
Taking place under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, the event is the second round of this year’s FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and buggies and the opening round of the FIM Bajas World Cup for bikes and quads.
Joining next month’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on the FIA World Cup calendar, the inaugural event has attracted an impressive line-up of 67 drivers and riders from across the Middle East and overseas.
They include Dubai-based Sam Sunderland who makes a first competitive appearance since his brilliant Dakar Rally bikes victory in January. The cars, buggies, bikes and quads will be flagged away from the ceremonial start at the Bab Al Shams Arena at 7pm tonight (Thursday).
“We’re very pleased with the size and quality of the entry in the first year, and we look forward to some classic cross country rallying in the Al Qudra desert,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organisers, and the Emirates Motor Sport Federation.
Speaking at an official press conference today at the Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa today, Sulayem added: “This event and the baja format shows way ahead for rallying in the UAE and the Middle East as a whole, and we’re confident it will go from strength to strength.
Salah Yamout, Director of Sales & Marketing for Arabian Automobiles, the flagship company of AW Rostamani Group, said: “We’re excited to be supporting the launch of an event which is part of the ATCUAE’s initiative to make the sport more affordable and therefore more sustainable by attracting many more local-based competitors.”
Samir Cherfan, Managing Director, Nissan Middle East, said: “We are especially happy to be joining hands with our business partner in Dubai and the Northern Emirate to give our support to the Dubai International Baja which is truly exciting addition to the UAE’s motor sport calendar and gives us fresh opportunities to showcase the qualities of the Nissan Patrol.”
The Nissan Patrol is the official car for the event, and eight Patrols entered include one driven by Qatar’s reigning FIA World Cup T2 production class champion Adel Hussain Abdulla who is backed by Nissan Middle East and partnered by French co-driver Sebastien Delaunay.
The rally is supported by Dubai Sport Council, Dubai Police, Dubai Civil Defence, Al Ain Water and AssetCo Fire and Rescue. With the Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa providing a luxurious setting, the event’s operational HQ and technical parc ferme is located at the nearby Bab Al Shams Arena.
Poland’s Aron Domzala and co-driver Szymon Gospodarczyk, who lead the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies after last week’s opening round victory in Russia in an Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux, are among 31 crews representing 15 nations who will battle for honours in the cars category through the dunes and sabkha plains of the Al Qudra Desert.
Among his biggest rivals for the cars title are Qatar’s reigning FIA World Cup champion and two-times Dakar Rally winner Nasser Al Attiyah partnered by Mathieu Baumel in a Toyota Hilux, and the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi with Emirati co-driver Khalid Al Kendi in an Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 208 DKR.
Czech driver Miroslav Zapletal in a Hummer H3 Evo, Dutchman Erik Van Loon, the 2015 Desert Challenge runner up, and Frenchman Ronan Chabot – both driving a Toyota Hilux – are among 10 drivers entering T1 prototype vehicles.
The 14 Emirati and UAE-based drivers competing include Ahmed Al Maqoodi who won the candidate event staged in Dubai in December that led to the rally being added to this year’s World Cup calendar.
He will be partnered in a T3 Polaris buggy by 2012 Desert Challenge quads champion Obaid Al Kitbe.
New Dakar bikes champion Sam Sunderland heads a line-up of 36 riders and drivers tackling the new event, making a welcome return to action in the deserts of Dubai where so much of his development into the sport’s top rider has taken place in recent years.
Among his main challengers will be top Emirati rider Mohammd Al Balooshi, while another locally-based British contender Dave McBride returns to the scene of his victory in the December’s World Cup candidate event.