The annual rally raid has been held in South America since 2009 and the latest edition will run through Peru, Bolivia and Argentina from January 6 to 20.
Having recovered from a knee injury he sustained at the FIM Cross Country Rally World Championship in Qatar last year, Balooshi earned his spot in the 40th edition of the Dakar Rally based on his results in the World Championship over the last couple of years.
He will be competing with the best off-road riders in the world in what’s widely regarded as the toughest race on the planet. A two-week battle of wit and skill will culminate at the finish line in Cordoba, Argentina.
The rally serves up four categories including cars, trucks and quads but Balooshi will feature in the motorcycle class which is regarded as the most challenging.
He made his Dakar Rally bow back in 2012 but this is will be his first appearance in the race since. Having been forced to an early retirement with a broken wrist last time around, he now gets the opportunity see it through to the end.
“The Dakar Rally is unfinished business to me, and I feel super excited about having a second chance at it,” Balooshi said. “This race is beyond extreme, and with the demanding admission process the organisers have in place for the bikes, it’s a privilege to be part of it.”
There’s also a special significance to the Emirati representing UAE at the rally in 2018. In celebration of the 100th birthday anniversary of the nation’s father Sheikh Zayed, Balooshi will be racing under the “Year of Zayed” banner.
“The biggest plus for me this time is to be able to take to these remote lands in South America the colours of the UAE flag and the strength of our country’s father, racing under the “Year of Zayed” hashtag. It’s an honour for me, and I will carry our colours and the name of Sheikh Zayed with great pride,” an excited Balooshi expressed.
A connoisseur of difficulties and with a track record of powerful recoveries, the Emirati rider is not intimidated by the obstacles and treacherous terrain the race serves up.
Two years ago, Balooshi notably gained international recognition when he pushed his 160 kg motorcycle across the Egyptian desert for 5 kilometers to reach a service point after an electrical problem at the Pharaons Rally (World Championship event) almost put him out of the competition.
His sheer strength of character not only allowed him to finish the race in third place, but also earned him respect in the racing community.
“The late and loved Sheikh Zayed was quoted as saying “The real asset of any advanced nation is its people.” I have always believed in his words. Our support to the Emirati Athlete Mohamed Balooshi is the trust Maximus Air has towards his bravery and passion,” said Mohamed Al Qassimi, CEO of Maximus Air.
“I’m happy to have this in collaboration with The Year of Zayed 2018; where the legacy of Sheikh Zayed will be highlighted, preserved by the people of UAE, and acted upon that continues to inspire other countries as well.”
Alongside Maximus Air, Al Ain Water and Sports 2 are the other Emirati companies supporting Balooshi and have gone the extra mile with him to support his initiative of racing under the “Year of Zayed” slogan.
Balooshi is also the first Red Bull athlete in the MENA region and their collaboration is the company’s longest in these parts, spanning over 14 years.
The 40th Dakar Rally will cover a total of 9,000 kilometres and with just over 30 days until the start of the competition, Balooshi’s is on a tight schedule as he trains for the gruelling challenge.
“Rally Racing is very demanding from a physical point of view, but also mentally. We have 500 kms a day of proper racing and, on a bike, without a chassis around your body to protect you if you fall, it’s important to minimize the number of mistakes you make,” Balooshi explains.
“It’s challenging because on a bike you’re alone, riding at 160km per hour through unknown terrain, and you have to keep up with your riding and navigation. The smallest mistake can throw you to the ground and send you home with broken bones. Knowing this, I am prepared to fight and I’m excited about proving that, in the UAE, we are strong competitors and are up for any challenge.”
Portuguese football manager Andre Villas-Boas will drive in the Dakar Rally in January, the organisers announced on Wednesday.
Villas-Boas, who coached Porto, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Zenit St Petersburg and Shanghai SIGP, will drive a Toyota Hilux in the two-week race which starts on January 6 in Lima and criss-crosses the Andes before finishing in Argentina.
Villas-Boas is reviving a family tradition. His uncle Pedro Villas-Boas drove in the race in 1982 in a 4×4.
He is not the first celebrity to take part. French rocker Johnny Hallyday raced in 2002. Prince Albert of Monaco competed twice and his sister Princess Caroline once.
The rally’s website reported that Villas-Boas was an enthusiastic dirt biker as a teenager in Oporto and competed regularly in the Portuguese off-road championships.
Villas-Boas turned 40 in October and said that he had thought of celebrating by riding in the 40th Dakar but then changed his mind after talking to one of the motorbike teams.
“I spoke with my friend Alex Doringer, the manager of the KTM team, who told me that I would still need a full year’s preparation to get there and that it was better to consider doing it with a car,” Villas-Boas told the Dakar Rally website.
“So I got in touch with Team Overdrive and here I am!”
He will be partnered by fellow countryman Ruben Faria, who is also a two-wheel specialist and finished second in the bike category in the 2013 race, which also started in the Peruvian capital.
“When Andre called me to propose that I join him, I had to think about it… for at least five seconds,” Faria said.
“It is a great challenge and I think that we can put in a good Dakar, which means making it to the bivouac every night and not to arrive too late!”
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.
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.
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.