Stage set for classic cross country rally weekend as Dubai International Baja rolls into town

Sport360 staff 18:33 06/03/2019
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(l-r) Tomas De Gavardo, Mohammed Al Balooshi, Mahir Badri, Aishwarya Pissay and Fahad Al Musallem.

The stage is set for a classic cross country rally weekend as the Dubai International Baja powered by AW Rostamani and Nissan sends a powerful international force of drivers and riders into action in the Al Qudra desert.

Taking place under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, the third edition of the event is the second round of the 2019 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas for cars and buggies and the opening round of this year’s FIM Bajas World Cup for bikes and quads.

Top-seeded UAE driver Khalid Al Qassimi, partnered by French navigator Xavier Panseri, will lead a 34 vehicle line-up away from the ceremonial start at Dubai Autodrome at 18:00 on Thursday.

With fellow Emirati Mohammed Al Balooshi, the defending FIM World Cup and Dubai Baja champion, seeded No1 among 55 riders, the rally begins on Thursday morning among the Al Qudra desert dunes and salt flats.

Lying ahead in a route totalling 607.11km in length is a special stage of 201.6km which is extended to 204.93km on the following morning before the survivors return to Dubai Autodrome for the official finish at 17:00.

“As the rally organisers we’re happy to have such a strong entry both in terms of numbers and quality,” said Mahir Badri, general manager of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE.

“It more than justifies our decision in recent years to switch to the Baja rally format which attracts a wider range of competitors.”

Al Qassimi, whose hopes of a cars victory last year were ruined by a first stage mechanical failure, faces a succession of world-class challengers. They include the 2018 winner and world champion, Poland’s Jakub Przygonski, as well as last year’s runners-up, Russia’s Vladimir Vasilyev.

Meanwhile, Czech driver Martin Prokop will be looking to add to his success in last year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

Other top overseas contenders include Polish driver Bartlomiej Boba as well as Miroslav Zapletal.

Also carrying the UAE flag will be Al Qassimi’s brother, Abdullah, alongside British co-driver Steve Lancaster, as well as Emiratis Mansoor Al Helei and Khalid Al Kendi.

Al Balooshi faces another strong challenge from UAE-based French rider Benjamin Melot, runner up for the last two years, with Italian rider Manuel Lucchese and UAE-based Richard Brewer looking to build on their fourth and fifth places last year.

India’s Aishwarya Pissay, the only woman rider in the field, makes only her second international appearance after crashing in Spain last year and rupturing her pancreas.

Relishing his return to action in Dubai will be Kuwait’s Fahad Al Musallam who will be aiming to complete a hat-trick of quads triumphs.

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