WORLD champion Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah will lead Qatar’s challenge in the main category of three-day Dubai International Baja, the second round of FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, which begins on Thursday.
The latest edition to the FIA calendar is the first of a three-round Middle East swing which also includes the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge (April 1-7) and Qatar Cross-Country Rally (April 16-21).
Nasser and French co-driver Mathieu Baumel, in a Toyota Hilux, had powered to victory in last year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and Qatar Cross-Country Rally on their way to FIA World Cup triumph.
“This is a new event in the championship and my first cross-country rally of the season since Dakar,” said Nasser. “I’ve a good record in the Middle East events and always feel at home in the desert. The shorter Baja format means we’ll have to avoid any mistakes. But pushing for the win is the obvious goal.”
Among Nasser’s main challengers are fellow Toyota Hilux drivers Poland’s Aron Domzala, who won the opening round in Russia last month, the Netherlands’ Erik van Loon and France’s Ronan Chabot.
Another driver to watch out for is local hero Shaikh Khalid Al Qassimi, who made his Dakar debut in a Peugeot 2008 DKR. Nasser has had a frosty relationship with Shaikh Khalid in the past. During the 2014 Middle East Rally Championship, Shaikh Khalid was initially declared the winner of the final round and subsequently awarded the title. But Nasser lodged an appeal with FIA, accusing his rival of cutting corners and was later declared as the winner and champion.