BAJA FORMAT GIVES RALLYING BRIGHT NEW FUTURE IN UAE

Sulayem works with FIA to inject new life into sport and drive safety message for double World Cup date in Emirates

Rallying is heading for a bright new future in the UAE, with a second World Cup cross country event now added to the national motor sport calendar and moves to attract another generation of competitors gathering pace.

The 2017 Dubai International Baja, taking place in the Al Qudra desert from 9-l1 March, is a key part of plans by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE to inject new life into the sport by establishing a more affordable and desert-friendly format.

Having started this process four years ago with the launch of the Emirates Desert Championship, the ATCUAE has taken another big step forward by creating a new Baja World Cup event and working closely with the FIA, motor sport’s world governing body, to promote and develop the baja rally brand.

Lionel Carre, FIA Technical Delegate for Cross Country Rallies, visited the UAE last week to work alongside the national motor sport authority in helping competitors prepare for the country’s two World Cup events, with a key emphasis on safety.

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 the second round of this year’s FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and buggies and the opening round of the FIM Baja World Cup for bikes and quads.

Based at the spectacular Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa, it will be followed on 1-7 April by the 27th edition of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, part of the FIA World Cup series and the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship.

Accompanied by ATCUAE President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, Carre visited a number of workshops and briefed competitors and mechanics, with a special emphasis on ensuring buggies are correctly built and upgraded to FIA standards to compete in the Baja World Cup T3 category.

“Our prime concern, as always, is safety,” said Sulayem. “We must ensure that all vehicles going into World Cup events have roll cages, fuel tanks, new specification fire extinguishers and seat belts meeting the highest FIA safety standards.

“We’re looking to attract a new wave of competitors. A good number have already been attracted to competitive motor sport by the Desert Championship because it’s more competitor friendly and affordable.

“The Dubai International Baja takes this to another level with two days of desert rallying and the chance to share a World Cup stage with competitors from overseas, and safety is top priority.

“This is a great opportunity for young Emirati and expatriate drivers to build on their experience, and we want many more to follow them into cross country rallying. For the sport to be sustainable we need to have strong local competitor support, and we need local champions to help attract more young talent.”

The Emirates Desert Championship was designed to capitalise on the country’s spectacular natural assets for the staging of cross country events. Making the sport open to buggies, bikes and quads as well as cars, the short course championship events run on Friday mornings have been highly successful, with entries often swelling to more than 100.

It has been a highly positive new trend following the decline in recent years of traditional rallying, and the new Dubai International Baja is a natural successor to the Dubai International Rally, which grew out of the sport’s pioneering days in the 1970s. Also supported by Dubai Sport Council, Dubai Police and Dubai Civil Defence, the Dubai International Baja has been added to the FIA World Cup series after the ATCUAE’s success in staging a candidate event in the Al Qudra desert in December.