Polish driver Jakub Przygonski and UAE-based South African rider Aaron Mare set the pace on the first leg of the Dubai International Baja powered by Nissan and AW Rostamani while home favourite Khalid Al Qassimi was a major casualty in the Al Qudra desert.
Partnered by Belgian co-driver Tom Colsoul in a Mini John Cooper, Przygonski won the opening day’s 174km special stage on Friday by 2mins 6 secs from Russians Vladimir Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov in the second round of this year’s FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies.
Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Hamed Seaidan, alongside Russian co-driver Aleksei Kuzmich, were third fastest on the day, another 3m 37s away in their Toyota Hilux.
But there was disaster for top seeded Al Qassimi and French co-driver Xavier Panseri as their Peugeot Abu Dhabi Racing Team 3008 DKR went out with mechanical failure just 70km into the stage.
With Czechs Martin Prokop and Jan Tomanek fourth fastest in a Ford F-150 Evo, the UAE’s Mansoor Al Helei and Khalid Al Kendi in a Nissan Pick-up and Thomas Bell with Patrick McMurren in a Nissan Navara completed the top six.
Lying ninth overall in a Polaris RZR, Ukrainian Vadym Prytuliak led the buggies category and was on course for a second successive Dubai Baja title.
In the battle of the bikes, Mare grabbed a 32-second first leg lead from Kuwait’s Mohammed Jaffar in the first round of this year’s FIM Bajas World Cup, despite a crash which left him nursing sore wrists.
French rider Benjamin Melot, last year’s runner-up, is another 1m 37s away in third place. Top-seeded UAE rider Mohammed Al Balooshi was fourth fastest on the day a further 1m 2s adrift, with his brother Sultan and Italian Manuel Lucchese completing the top six.
Aiming for a successful quads title defence in Dubai, Kuwait’s Fahad Al Musallam made the perfect start on his Yamaha 700 Raptor, opening up nearly a 15-minute lead over Russian rider Aleksandr Maksimov on another Yamaha.
Przygonski, runner-up in last year’s FIA World Cup series, said: “It was a really fast stage in the dunes. I pushed hard and passed three cars (Prokop, Al Qassimi and Vasilyev). It was easy terrain, some soft sand and dunes, but no major issues.”
Vasilyev, who scored back-to-back victories in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in 2014 and 2015, now needs a big effort if he is to secure a third World Cup rally triumph in the UAE, although Przygonski can afford no mistakes or mishaps.
Mohammed Ben Sulayem, president of the Automobile and Touring Club for the UAE and Emirates Motor Sport Federation, and FIA vice president for sport, said: “We’ve had a very interesting first day and no-one can afford to relax because anything can happen in cross country rallying.”
Seaidan, fifth overall in last year’s FIA World Cup standings and fifth in Russia recently, said: “It was a great drive and the terrain was good with no problem. The car is running perfectly.”
It was certainly not a comfortable day for bikes leader Mare who said at the end of the stage: “It was really good apart from a big crash coming off a dune. I hurt both wrists. The second part was fast with steep dunes and a lot of concentration needed.”
Second-placed Jaffar said: “I had an amazing day. The route was nice and the bike is much better than before. I felt very comfortable. It was a great ride and the bike performed well. It’s more about reading the desert than navigation.”
UAE-based Balooshi added: “Opening the route isn’t easy. There weren’t any tracks to follow so it was really difficult for me but I made the most of it and I’m hoping for the best.”
After Thursday night’s ceremonial start at Dubai Autodrome, 46 cars, buggies, bikes and quads headed out into the dunes and plains of the Al Qudra desert which will be repeated on Saturday. The survivors reach the finish at Dubai Autodrome at 16:30.
Provisional leading positions after AW Rostamani Arabian Automobiles Special Stage 1:
Ever wanted to test yourself and your car on a real race track?
Well here’s your chance with Roll Racing DXB at Dubai Autodrome.
Roll Racing is an exciting new initiative aimed at taking racing off the streets and into a safe and controlled environment.
Held regularly on Thursday nights at the Autodrome, Roll Racing DXB is modified drag racing.
You and your car race against another vehicle from a rolling start of 40kph followed by a drag race of 250m down the straight at the Autodrome.
The event is open to both cars and SUVs. At a recent event even some novelty vehicles took part – such as mini minors and combi vans – but most of the cars have a little more firepower.
Only two cars race at a time at this carefully controlled event where safety – and fun – are the top priority.
Held twice a month – all year – between 50 and 100 cars roll up for each event and around 1,000 spectators pack the grandstand, which provides some real racing atmosphere.
Roll Racing has become one of the Autodromes most popular events for a number of reasons.
Firstly it provides a platform for road users to use their cars to their potential in a safe environment.
It also raises awareness of the dangers of driving dangerously or speeding on the road.
Why drive your car dangerously on the road – risking accidents and heavy police fines – when you can see what it can really do on one of the region’s top race tracks?
By providing this valuable community service Dubai Autodrome has built Roll Racing DXB into a sustainable event which is also developing important new community links.
The running order for each Roll Racing DXB night is as follows:
Vehicles and drivers arrive at Dubai Autodrome at 19:00.
All vehicles then undergo a basic safety check for any obvious issues and drivers receive a safety briefing before going on circuit.
Vehicles then move out to the circuit and line up in a two by two formation. You get to choose who you will race against.
As pairs of cars reach the starting position they are counted down – like a real race – and drag race for 250m ending at the finish line.
Once the drag race is complete the drivers slow down and cruise around the circuit to their original positions.
They then get to choose another partner to race against and do it all over again. Depending on how many other cars are there you could race ten to twenty times in one night.
For a true racing experience this is one not to miss.
Registration is AED420 per car – you can book online – with spectators just AED20.
What: Roll Racing DXB
Where: Dubai Autodrome
When: March 29 from 19:00
More information: www.dubaiautodrome.com
A UAE-based doctor began his grueling 80-hour run through the Emirates on Saturday to raise awareness of cancer.
Dr Khaled Al Suwaidi embarked on his inspiring Rahma Run ultramarathon attempt from Fujairah Terminals at 06:00, with Al Suwaidi expected to complete the 327-kilometre journey by 18:00 on Monday, ending at Zayed Port in Abu Dhabi.
Al Suwaidi is aiming to raise awareness and funds for Cancer Patient Care Society-Rahma, with the event coinciding with the Year of Zayed celebrations.
In attendance was Al Suwaidi’s father, Professor Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi, director general of the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) and chairman of the board of directors of the Cancer Patient Care Society-Rahma.
He said: “It shows the commitment of the UAE’s youth to follow in the footsteps of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan who instilled in all of us the love of humanitarian work. The result is that our beloved country has become a pioneer in this field.”
Yesterday evening, Al Suwaidi had passed the 55km mark in eight hours and was due to arrive in Maleha, Fujairah with his coach, ultramarathon specialist Lee Harris, who was very happy with his progress so far.
“It is important for Khaled to maintain a pace we have been working on during training,” said Harris.
“Running the distance he is trying to achieve is incredible and he is putting his body through extreme stresses. He will receive physiotherapy treatment and take on lots of nutritious food during small rest breaks throughout the run.
“He can’t stop for too long otherwise his body will start to seize up and starting to run again will become too difficult.”
The run is expected to take between 60–80 hours. You can follow Al Suwaidi’s journey via a live GPS link on www.therahmarun.com and on Twitter and Instagram @therahmarun.