The UAE’s Khalid Al Qassimi will start as favourite to land the cars title in next month’s Dubai International Baja powered by Nissan and AW Rostamani, but he faces major opposition in an event drawing a world-class line-up of Middle East and overseas competitors.
Partnered by French co-driver Xavier Panseri in his Peugeot Abu Dhabi Racing Team 3008 DKR, Al Qassimi is the top seeded driver in the second round of the 2019 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas for cars and buggies.
Heading the bikes’ seedings in the event which also forms the opening round of this year’s FIM Bajas World Cup for bikes and quads is Mohammed Al Balooshi, the UAE’s reigning world champion and winner in Dubai last year.
The two top Emirati contenders are among an impressive international assembly of 115 competitors from 25 countries.
Among Al Qassimi’s main challengers will be last year’s winner, Poland’s Jakub Przygonski, this time partnered by German co-driver Timo Gottschalk, and the 2018 runners-up, Russian duo Vladimir Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov.
Second seed in the 30-car entry and looking to follow on from last year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge triumph, and fourth place in Dubai, is Czech driver Martin Prokop, accompanied by Jan Tomanek.
Other top overseas contenders include Polish driver Bartlomiej Boba and Finland’s Tapio Suominen and Miroslav Zapletal and Marek Sykora.
Among the crews aiming to make their mark for the host country are Al Qassimi’s brother, Abdullah, alongside British co-driver Steve Lancaster, as well as Emiratis Mansoor Al Helei and Khalid Al Kendi.
Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club for the UAE (ATCUAE), the rally organisers and FIA vice president for Sport, said: “We’re delighted with the number and overall quality of entries. The switch from conventional rallying to the Baja format was made to take the sport forward, and this event goes from strength to strength.”
Twelve months ago, Al Qassimi’s hopes of an overall cars victory was dashed by a first leg mechanical failure, although he stormed back to set the fastest time on leg two to underline his credentials, and will be determined to avoid any major problems this time.
Al Balooshi had a tense ride to the bikes title last year as his KTM almost ran out of fuel on the second leg. He faces a big threat again 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.
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.
UAE-based Thomas Bell and Patrick McMurren will be chasing another impressive finish after taking sixth place last year.
Saudi Arabia’s Essa Al Dossari aims to make his mark in Dubai after a second successive Ha’il Nissan International Rally victory on home territory alongside Emirati navigator Ali Hassan Obaid on New Year’s Day.
Also carrying the Saudi flag will be Ibrahim Al Muhanna after claiming the Ha’il T4 title. His two support drivers are fellow Saudis Osama Alsanad and Raid Abutheeb.
Another driver making the quick transition from snow and ice to desert sand after the opening World Cup round will be Oman’s Abdullah Al Zubair who took second place in the T3 Side by Side category in Russia.
Taking place under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, the Dubai International Baja is based at Dubai Autodrome, which will be the venue for the race’s ceremonial start on March 7.
Competitors head out from Dubai Autodrome into the desert on the morning of Friday, March 8, to tackle a dramatic 407km special stage which will be run again the following morning before the event finishes back at the Autodrome at 12:30 the same day.
Yas Marina Circuit will host the opening race of the 2018-19 FIA World Rallycross Championship, the first time the event will be held in the Middle East.
Taking place on April 5 and 6, it is another feather for YMC in which boosts their sporting credentials and heritage.
Race goers can expect a full weekend of off-track entertainment with thrilling on-track action and some of the world’s most talented drivers competing for glory across the Championship’s thrilling Supercar and RX2 classes.
Mohammed Ben Sulayem, president of the Automobile & Touring Club UAE, was delighted that the prestigious event will be staged in the capital.
“Bringing the FIA World Rallycross Championship to Yas Marina Circuit is a huge boost to the development of motorsports in the UAE,” he said.
“This international event will help to build on the UAE’s already strong heritage of competing in major motorsports events and hosting championship races as well as inspiring a new generation of talented racing stars to compete at the highest level.”
It’s that time of the year! New Calendar, New Season, New Feels.— Yas Marina Circuit (@ymcofficial) October 2, 2018
💪🔥 Visit our website and find out what's on #YasCalendar for 2018-2019
The announcement was revealed during YMC’s calendar launch on Tuesday where there will be a variety of health and fitness events as well as top regional competitions.
These range from single-seater championships and iconic endurance races to street-style drag events, including the TRD 86 Cup, Yas Racing Series, and the Gulf 12 Hours while vintage F1 cars return for another season along with the Super Street and Yas Roll Racing drag racing sessions.
Al Tareq Al Ameri, CEO of Yas Marina Circuit, said: “Yas Marina Circuit is proud of its long track record of hosting thrilling motorsport races that attract fans from across the globe to Abu Dhabi while our innovative health and fitness events and challenges have helped us to reach the incredible milestone of welcoming one million visits.
“Each year the Circuit’s annual event’s calendar is filled with the biggest and best activities and programmes that define its position as an important multi-purpose venue that serves the entire community.
“With the new season being bookended by major sporting events – the Formula 1 2018 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November and the FIA World Rally Cross Championship in April – the 2018-19 calendar promises to be our biggest to date and fully demonstrates that Yas Marina Circuit is ‘Always On’.”
Young UAE karting star Rashid Al Dhaheri made his debut in the ROK Cup Championship in China in the mini class.
Despite the challenging and highly changeable weather conditions Al Dhaheri triumphed on the circuit which required changing the tyres as well as the strategic plan during the race.
On day one, Al Dhaheri qualified fastest to take pole position and remained in the lead throughout the race, maintaining his speed to take first place comfortably. However, despite this excellent start, in the final race of the day, Al Dhaheri was forced into second position by a competitor where he remained till the end of the race.
On the second day, Al Dhaheri came in fifth place during the warm up race due after struggling with grip as a result of the rain and tyres. In the first heat on the final day the Emirati champion quickly rectified this moving from fifth to third, and then took pole position in the final laps of the race despite the race despite the extremely wet conditions.
In the final race of the competition, Rashid started in first position and drove an impeccable race, extending his lead throughout the race to cross the finish line in a comfortable first place and record his first victory at the Red 1 International karting race in his first participation.
His victory on the second day underlined a solid performance all weekend and the youngster said: “It was a great race and I have really enjoyed. It is always a good feeling to win.”
Coach and ex-Formula 2 champion, Italian Fausto Ippoliti, added: “It was a great win for Rashid, once again he rose to the occasion and showed his prodigious natural talents, it was a well-deserved victory.
“I was particularly impressed with Rashid’s capacity to rapidly adapt to the changeable weather conditions and setting up the kart to get the pole position very effectively. This shows how he has evolved with experience and drives with a maturity beyond his age.”
Al Dhaheri will return to action for the Italian ROK Championship in Adria – Italy on 7-9 September