Business of Sport: Chopard Classic Rally Dubai - Grand tradition gets a dash of UAE magic

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Hitting the road: Jacky Ickx and Karl-Friedrich Scheufele driving a Porsche in the UAE.

The rarified combination of classic cars and a distinguished watch brand spectacularly combined together for the first time in the UAE last month.

The inaugural Chopard Classic Rally Dubai 2017 on November 10-11 saw 30 teams leave Dubai on a journey through the beautiful and enchanting scenery of the country’s deserts, mountains and winding roads.

To mark this special occasion, Chopard – along with partner Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons – launched the L.U.C Time Traveler One – Time of the Desert, a 20-piece limited series designed specifically to keep long-haul travellers in touch with several time zones.

The Chopard Classic Rally Dubai itself presented a rigorous test of timing and navigational skills, offering to passionate participants the opportunity to challenge their driving abilities.

30 teams left from Dubai’s iconic Burj Khalifa landmark.

It started from the iconic Burj Khalifa, going towards the northern emirates and passing by Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain plus Ras Al Khaimah. Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, Chopard co-president and a passionate driver of collector’s cars, took part in this first edition, competing along with the legendary ex-Formula One driver Jacky Ickx.

Sport360° caught up with the former to discuss how this new event fits into his company’s plans.

Q) Explain what makes this race so special?

A) First of all, it is the very first rally we organised in Dubai. I think it is probably the first rally, all together, featuring classic cars in Dubai.

Why the Middle East and specifically the UAE?

We have been playing with this thought for a while. We tried to identify where we had the best infrastructure to do it and the best chance to gather enough cars. You need to find the people who want to participate with their cars. Roughly 30 cars is a good turnout for the first time.

Do these Chopard rallies go on anywhere else in the world? If not, are you looking at any other locations?

We are partners with the Mille Miglia for 30 years, next year. You could say we are associated very closely with it.

There used to be a Mille Miglia in Argentina, which was a very nice place to drive because of its open roads with nobody there and beautiful nature. There was also one in Tokyo, that was an interesting event which was run three times. We did two racetracks there. It is very easy to get lost there. For the last 10 years, we have organised a rally in Moscow. That started off with 10 cars and now they have to refuse entries, limiting it to 65 cars.

Jacky Ickx pictured with Karl-Friedrich Scheufele (left).

Chopard has a very close association with motorsports. What is it about this category that attracts a brand like yourself?

The connection comes, really, from a personal passion of ours. My father and myself collect classic cars, since many years. I have driven in nearly every Mille Miglia, I think 27 of them. It is not that we are conveniently sponsoring something which fits in, like some watch brands have been doing after ‘discovering’ cars in recent years. We have been doing it seriously, with authenticity and passion for a long time. The nice thing with this kind of event is you can network with the participants, we share the same passion.

If you sponsor Formula One and invite your clients, no-one can approach the cars or speak to the drivers unless you sponsor a team. Classic car racing and rallies are more intimate, more personal. We also sponsor the Grand Prix de Monaco Historique. That has cars which are worth millions, but the people are very approachable.

Will the Chopard Classic Rally Dubai be back next year?

We will make a debriefing at the end of the event, which hopefully is positive. Hopefully, we can continue.

A special, 20-piece ‘L.U.C Time Traveler One – Time of the Desert’ watch has been created for this event. Can you tell us more about it?

We wanted to do something that is connected with Dubai. When I drove back from our lunch stop, I really could see all these different shades of sand – from beige, to pink and to red. The dial of the watch is about the desert. It fits very well with the scene.

For once, we wanted to connect the rally to an L.U.C. timepiece rather than the Chronograph, such as from the Mille Miglia collection. We do this already in Moscow, for example. The rally in Moscow is called L.U.C Chopard Classic Rally. If we did another Dubai Rally, I’d be very tempted to produce another one.

If you can pick any car from any era which sums up Chopard as a brand, what would it be?

You have saved the most difficult question for the end. I will speak in terms of my favourite, it is a Porsche 911 RS. It is not the one we drive, but it is similar. It is white, with a little spoiler in the back. They are all from 1973 as they produced a limited edition. It was the first Carrera that they made. It is a classic. Still today, everything looks right and it’s great to drive.

Taking to the open roads in the UAE.

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Nasser Al Attiyah leads after Kazakhstan win

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Rising to the top: Nasser Al Attiyah.

Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah and co-driver Matthieu Baumel emerged unscathed from yesterday’s 147.94km sixth stage of Rally Kazakhstan to secure overall victory by a margin of 7min 43sec and take the outright lead in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.

After moving into the lead on day two of the 2,500km event, the Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux duo were never able to rest on their laurels on demanding special stages laid on across the Mangystau oblast. The quickest time on the final stage was sufficient for Al Attiyah to seal his third win of the season after victories in Dubai and Qatar.

Al Attiyah said: “A great result for us. We played it smart from the very start. We pushed when we had to and had the right strategy.

“It was a really enjoyable rally, fantastic, and I am sure many more drivers will come in the future. Now we lead the championship and try to keep on like this.”

Poland’s Jakub Przygonski and Tom Colsoul delivered a second successive runner-up position on a long-distance round of the FIA World Cup and pressurised Al Attiyah hard. They led after day one and never gave the Qatari the opportunity to ease his pace. Przygonski climbs to third in the standings.

Yazeed Al Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk won three of the event’s six selective sections but an accident and broken suspension on day one put paid to the Saudi challenging for the overall victory. He delivered an impressive performance nonetheless and reached Aktau in 11th overall.

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FIA MERC promises excitement despite low entry numbers

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Meshari Al Thefiri is hoping to claim the title.

Entries may be thin on the ground in this year’s FIA Middle East Rally Championship, but the hunt for success in the region’s MERC 2 championship for production-type NR4 cars promises to be fascinating.

Heading into this weekend’s three-day FIA Jordan Rally at the Dead Sea, Qatar’s Rashid Al Naimi tops the standings by nine points from Kuwait’s Meshari Al Thefiri.

But Al-Naimi has decided to switch his attention to a limited programme of events in the European Rally Championship this year and that has opened the door for Al-Thefiri to press on to try and drill home his advantage over the 18 special stages that stand in his way in the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea areas.

While the Kuwaiti and his new Qatari navigator Nasser Al-Kuwari start as favourites to snatch an MERC 2 lead to take to the Cyprus Rally in June, the duo face eight rivals in Jordan – four from the host nation, two from Saudi Arabia and a further two cars from Kuwait.

The MERC 2 section is cost-effective and attractive to amateur teams and various derivatives of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution dominate the category. Al-Thefiri’s competition from his own country comes from Essam Al-Nejadi and Salem Al-Thefiri, while the experienced drifting champion Saeed Al-Mouri joins Rakan Al-Rashed from the neighbouring Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The host nation’s hopes of claiming the MERC 2 crown and pushing for an overall podium finish rest with Khaled Juma, a returning Ma’rouf Abu Samra, Ihab Al-Shorafa and Ziad Miqdad.

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