Reigning world champions Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah and Adel Hussain Abdulla will spearhead the Qatari challenge in the new Dubai International Baja to be held from March 9 to 11 as another fellow-countryman aims to make a big impact in the event.
Nasser enters the second round of this year’s FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies partnered by French co-driver Mathieu Baumel in a Toyota Hilux which they powered to victory in last year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on their way to a commanding FIA World Cup triumph.
Abdulla, who captured the World Cup T2 production class title for the second time in a row last season, teams up again in the Dubai International Baja with French co-driver Sebastien Delaunay. The same combination also tasted victory in the Jeddah Rally in November.
Organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of UAE and running through the Al Qudra desert, the event is the first part of a three-event swing of the Middle East which also includes the Desert Challenge (1-7 April) and Qatar’s Sealine Cross Country Rally (16-21 April).
Also carrying the Qatari flag in Dubai will be Mohamed Issa Abu Issa, twice a World Cup winner in the UAE who returns to action looking to build on his impressive start after a change of direction in top-class motor sport.
Abu Issa tackles the event alongside French co-driver Xavier Panseri in the Mini All 4 Racing which they took to a splendid 10th place overall in the Dakar Rally back in January.
It was the Qatari’s cars debut after switching from the quads category where he had established himself as one of the sport’s top stars, securing victories in 2013 and 2015 in the Desert Challenge, the UAE’s other FIA World Cup cross country event. Another Qatari in action in Dubai will be Khalid Al Mohannadi in a T3 Polaris buggy.
Among Nasser's biggest challengers in the Dubai International Baja, based at the at the spectacular Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa, are Holland’s 2015 Desert Challenge runners-up Erik Van Loon and Wouter Rosegaar in a Toyota Hilux.
Another leading contender will be the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi who contested the Dakar Rally for the first time in January and will be looking to underline his presence at the top level of cross country rallying on home territory in an Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 2008 DKR. With Al Qassimi relying this time on the local knowledge of top Emirati co-driver Khalid Al Kendi, his regular partner in World Rally Championship events, Ulsterman Chris Patterson, will accompany young Emirati Mansour Al Helei in a T2 Toyota Landcruiser.
“We’re building towards a powerful starting line-up which is very encouraging for the Baja International Rally as a new event showing the way ahead for rallying in the UAE, and the region as a whole,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the ATCUAE and the Emirates Motor Sport Federation.
Another big UAE hopeful will be Ahmed Al Maqoodi who won the candidate event staged in Dubai in December that led to the rally being added to this year’s FIA World Cup calendar. He will be partnered in a T3 Polaris buggy by Obaid Al Kitbe, the 2012 Desert Challenge quads champion.
With the FIA World Cup series for cars and buggies starting in Russia on Friday, the Dubai International Baja provides a challenging starting point for bike and quad riders in this year’s FIM Bajas World Cup. The candidate event winner on two wheels, UAE-based British driver Dave McBride, is among the early entries in Dubai.