New Dakar Rally bikes champion Sam Sunderland, making a first competitive appearance since his historic victory in South America, has joined the line-up of 72 riders and drivers tackling the new Dubai International Baja this weekend.
Dubai-based Sunderland, who became the first ever British winner of the Dakar in January, is among 38 riders from 12 countries in the official entry list.
Fittingly, it is in his adopted home of Dubai where Sunderland gets his first competitive ride since his superb Dakar victory, with so much of his development having taken place there.
“It will be great to be racing again as I haven’t done much since Dakar to be honest,” he said after an intense morning training ride aboard his Red Bull KTM. “But I’m having a lot of bike time before the baja and will definitely be ready for it. I don’t race unless I’m fully prepared and I will be.”
From Dubai his attention will switch to the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge (1-7 April) which is part of a three-round World Cup swing through the Middle East culminating in Qatar’s Sealine Cross Country Rally (16-21 April).
Top Emirati rider Mohammd Al Balooshi will be aiming to make his mark in Dubai, as will another locally-based Brit, Dave McBride, winner of the bikes title in December’s World Cup candidate event.
After his World Cup first round success in the snow and ice of the northern Russian forests, Domzala faces a tough examination in the Al Qudra desert.
Among his biggest rivals for the cars title are Qatar’s two-times Dakar Rally winner Nasser Al Attiyah in a Toyota Hilux, the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi in an Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 208 DKR, and Russia’s double Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge winner and 2015 World Cup champion Vladimir Vasilyev in a Mini All4 Racing.
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.
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 34 crews representing 15 nations who will battle for honours in the cars category through the dunes and sabkha plains of the Al Qudra Desert.
Forming the second round of this year’s FIA World Cup series for cars and buggies, the Dubai International Baja is also the opening round of the FIM Bajas World Cup for bikes and quads and is a key part of ATCUAE plans to create a bright new future for rallying.
“We’re very happy with the size and quality of entries in the first year and this is something that we’ll build on,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, president of the ATCUAE and the Emirates Motor Sport Federation.
“We’re reversing the trend in recent years for competitor numbers in rallying to fall away dramatically, and the support of partners like AW Rostamani and Nissan Middle East for the Dubai International Baja gives a strong boost to our plans to ensure the sport is sustainable in the years ahead.
“The baja format is more desert friendly and affordable compared with traditional rallying, and by being open to buggies, bikes and quads as well as cars appeals to a much wider range of competitors.”
The Dubai International Baja features three AW Rostamani and Nissan-branded special stages, two of 90km and 82km respectively running on Friday 10 March and one of 174 km the following
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