FLYING DUTCHMAN READY FOR BATTLE WITH ARAB STARS IN DUBAI INTERNATIONAL BAJA

Al Qassimi leads UAE challenge as new event showing way ahead for rallying takes on Al Qudra desert

Flying Dutchman Erik Van Loon is among the overseas stars ready for battle with the Arab world’s top desert specialists in next month’s Dubai International Baja which establishes a new double World Cup date for the UAE in cross country rallying.

Van Loon and co-driver Wouter Rosegaar, who finished runners-up in the 2015 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, return to action in the UAE in a Toyota Hilux for the second round of this year’s FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies.

The T1 prototype class also brings a double entry from France, with Ronan Chabot assisted by Gilles Tillot in a T1 Toyota Hillux and Yannick Commagnac accompanied by Herve Lavergne in a 2WD SMG buggy.

Leading the UAE challenge will be 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.

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.

Organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of UAE and running through the Al Qudra desert from 9-11 March, the Dubai International Baja is 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).

“We’re building towards a powerful starting line-up which is very encouraging for the Baja International Rally as it’s 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.

Taking place under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, the rally is supported Dubai Sport Council, Dubai Police and Dubai Civil Defence. With the Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa providing a luxurious setting, the event’s operational HQ and technical parc ferme will be at the nearby Bab Al Shams Arena.

The early cars entry list includes Poland’s Aron Damzala and Szymon Gospodarczyk in a T1 Toyota Hillux, UAE-based Lebanese driver Emil Khneisser alongside South African Manie Kruiss in a T2 Nissan Patrol and China’s Mao Ruijin with Spain’s Rafael Tornabell in a T3 Polaris Spain Rafael Tornabell.

Reigning FIA World Cup champions Nasser Al Attiyah and Adel Hussain Abdulla lead the Qatari challenge. Al Attiyah will be partnered by French co-driver Mathieu Baumel in a Toyota Hilux which they took to victory in last year’s Desert Challenge on their way to the World Cup title

Abdulla, World Cup T2 production class winner for the last two years, teams up with French co-driver Sebastien Delaunay. Another Qatari, Mohammed Abu Issa, competes alongside French co-driver Xavier Panseri in the Mini All 4 Racing which they took to 10th place in the Dakar Rally back in January. It was a driving debut for Abu Issa, twice a winner of the Desert Challenge quads title.

Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Seaidan with French co-driver Laurent Lichtleuchter in a Toyota Landcruiser looks to bury his disappointment after losing the 2016 T2 crown to Abdulla after dropping points in Morocco following a protest over the legality of his car.

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 rides 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 along with four Kazak challengers, Kirill Solokha, Maxim Antimirov, Timur Raizkiyenov and Asamat Tieulessov. Other bikes entries are in from Emiratis Ibrahim Bugla and Khalid Al Falasi and British riders David Mabbs and Alan Boyter.