Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid bin Faisal Al Qassimi and co-driver Khalid Al Kendi are set for a new experience in unchartered terrain when the Qatar Cross Country Rally gets underway Tuesday with the Super Special Stage at Losail Circuit.
The Qatar Cross Country Rally will be an entirely new experience for Sheikh Khalid as the terrain is totally different from the Dubai International Baja where he finished second, and the dunes of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, which he won. With those two finishes, Sheikh Khalid now leads the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies championship.
Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah is still recovering from injury, but he has only ever been beaten once on this event – when he suffered an engine failure on his Buggy in 2013 – and the two-time Dakar champion will be hoping to bounce back into title contention over the four desert selective sections of his home round of the FIA World Cup.
Sheikh Khalid was hoping to test his Peugeot 3008 DKR and check the set up, but unfortunately, the car arrived late, in fact just before sunset, and hence no testing was possible. However, he did get to drive it around a bit a get a feel of the car.
Sheikh Khalid said: “This is going to be an entirely new experience for me and I am really looking forward to it. The terrain will be different from that in Dubai and the dunes of Abu Dhabi, but I am here to gain new experience in this format of racing and hopefully it will be a successful experience.
“Our car arrived late at the testing area so we had no opportunity to do a pre-race test and check the set up, but still I am looking forward to a good five days of racing and bring the car home safely with a good result.”
The Super Special Stage over a distance of 4.85km will be held at Losail.
Ahead of a quality field of 32 cars, 13 motorcycles and seven quads lies a daunting route of nearly 2,000 kilometres that will take competitors to the outermost reaches of the State of Qatar in a demanding, dusty and sandy trail.
The fourth round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies and round two of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship has attracted the leading contenders in all the relevant categories and the scene is set for a fascinating tussle for supremacy.
The car category has strength in depth: Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi drives the first of three X-raid built Minis and Al Attiyah’s team at Overdrive Racing fields additional Toyota Hiluxes for Aron Domzala, Erik van Loon and Leeroy Poulter.
Qatar’s Mohammed Abu Issa drives one of the Minis and the former quad category winner lies second in the Drivers’ Championship after three rounds.
Adel Abdulla is the defending FIA T2 World Champion in his Nissan Patrol, but the Qatari has endured a difficult start to the defence of his title. Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Saeidan and Abu Dhabi Racing’s Mansour Al-Helai have stolen a march through the first three rounds.
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing and the Monster Energy Honda Team are all in attendance in Qatar to head the motorcycle category. There are seven official factory riders, with Sam Sunderland, Matthias Walkner and Antoine Meo representing KTM, Pablo Quintanilla and Pierre Alexandre Renet wheeling out a pair of Husqvarna FR450s and Paulo Goncalves and Kevin Benavides entered by Honda.
Sunderland is the man of the moment. He won the Dakar Rally this year and played the tactical game to perfection to move into an eight-point lead in the FIM Cross-Country Rally World Championship by winning in Abu Dhabi.
The Dubai-based Briton was pushed hard in the UAE by all his rivals and both Quintanilla and Goncalves, in particular, will be hoping to put the disappointment of missing out on a win.