POLES HEAD FROM FROZEN RUSSIAN FORESTS TO DUBAI DESERT LOOKING TO BUILD ON WORLD CUP LEAD

After dramatic opening round on snow and ice, Dubai International Baja set to deliver classic test in Al Qudra desert

Poland’s Aron Domzala switches from the frozen forests of Northern Russia to the Al Qudra desert next week when he looks to build on his early lead in the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies during the inaugural Dubai International Baja.

Partnered by Szymon Gospodarczyk in an Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux, Domzala lines up in the second round of the World Cup series full of confidence, but facing a dramatic change in conditions, following his opening round victory on Sunday.

The Polish success in the Baja Russia Northern Forest Rally came after Russians Vladimir Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov, two-times winners of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, crashed out of contention in the their BMW X3 100km from the finish line in treacherous conditions.

Seven of the top 11 finishers in the event, which ran across the icy wastelands of Karelia, north-western Russia, will now head for the dunes and hard-packed sabkha plains of the Al Qudra desert where the Dubai International Baja promises a test of a different kind from 9-11 March.

With Gospodarczyk for company on this occasion, Domzala returns to the UAE where he drove solo to take a Polaris RZR 1000 buggy to 11th place in last year’s Desert Challenge.

“The contrast between two World Cup rounds could not be any greater, but that’s the challenge of cross country rallying at the top level and we’re looking forward to a classic desert event,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organisers, and the President of Emirates Motor Sport Federation.

Vasilyev and Zhiltsov will now look to quickly shrug off their setback in Russia where they eventually finished fifth and reproduce the form in Dubai which took them to back-to-back victories in the Desert Challenge in 2014 and 2015.

Also Dubai-bound from Russia are Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Saeidan and French co-driver Laurent Lichtleuchter who finished seventh in a Toyota Land Cruiser, Kazakhstan’s Marat abykayev and Andrei Chipenko, ninth in a Nissan Patrol, Saudis Ahmed AlMalki and Omar Allahim who were 10th in another Land Cruiser, and 11th-placed reigning World Cup T2 production class champions Abdulla Adel Hussain from Qatar with French co-driver Sebastien Delaunay in a Nissan Patrol.

The Dubai International Baja takes place under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai.

The event is supported Dubai Sport Council, Dubai Police, Dubai Civil Defence, Al Ain Water and AssetCo Fire and Rescue. 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.

Forming the first part of a three-event swing through the deserts of the Middle East, Dubai’s new addition to the World Cup calendar is followed by the Desert Challenge (1-7 April) and Qatar’s Sealine Cross Country Rally (16-21 April).

The event is also the opening round of this year’s FIM Bajas World Cup for bikes and quads which will share the international stage with cars and buggies as many of the Arab world’s top drivers and riders compete against a powerful assembly of overseas contenders.