Dubai, UAE, 6 March, 2019: The stage is set for a classic cross country rally weekend as the Dubai International Baja powered by AW Rostamani and Nissan sends a powerful international force of drivers and riders into action in the Al Qudra desert.
Taking place under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, the third edition of the event is the second round of the 2019 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas for cars and buggies and the opening round of this year’s FIM Bajas World Cup for bikes and quads.
Based at Dubai Autodrome in MotorCity, the event is supported by the Government of Dubai, Dubai Police, Dubai Municipality, the General Authority of Sports, Dubai Customs, Al Ain Water and Emarat petrol.
Top-seeded UAE driver Khalid Al Qassimi, partnered by French navigator Xavier Panseri in his Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR, will lead a 34-vehicle line-up away from the ceremonial start at Dubai Autodrome at 6pm tonight (Thursday).
With fellow Emirati Mohammed Al Balooshi, the defending FIM World Cup and Dubai Baja champion, seeded No.1 among 55 riders, the rally begins in earnest tomorrow morning among the Al Qudra desert dunes and salt flats.
Lying ahead in a route totalling 607.11km in length is a special stage of 201.6km which is extended to 204.93km on the following morning before the survivors return to Dubai Autodrome for the official finish at 5pm.
“We’re very grateful to the government for the consistent support it has given to rallying in Dubai over many years,” said Mahir Badri, General Manager of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE at today’s official press conference at Dubai Autodrome.
“As the rally organisers we’re happy to have such a strong entry both in terms of numbers and quality. It more than justifies our decision in recent years to switch to the Baja rally format which attracts a wider range of competitors.”
Tarek ElMoukachar, General Manager of Corporate Communications, Nissan Middle East said: “It is our pleasure to sponsor this event for a third year and see it grow in stature, with the Nissan Patrol as the rally’s official car.”
“Nissan is committed to advancing rallying and motor sport in general worldwide through events like this which bring enjoyment to enthusiasts in the UAE, across the region and overseas.”
Nicolas Oswald, General Manager Sales & Marketing Arabian Automobiles Co. /AW Rostamani Group, said: “We were immediately attracted by this event because it was designed by the ATCUAE to make rallying more affordable and attract more local-based competitors. We’re delighted to see it go from strength to strength and look forward to another exciting weekend.”
Faisal Al Sahlawi, General Manager, Dubai Autodrome, commented: “We’re particularly happy to welcome back the Dubai International Baja at a time when plans are in motion to establish this venue as one of the best multipurpose racing circuits and testing facilities in the world.”
“The event gives us the perfect opportunity to showcase the Autodrome’s world-class motor sport infrastructure and amenities as well as our ongoing development as the hub of regional motorsport business.”
Mubarak Al Mansoori, SVP of Corporate Services, Agthia Group PJSC, said: “Once again we’re pleased to extend our longstanding partnership with the ATCUAE during an event which provides an ideal platform to promote Al Ain Water, and Alpin Water.”
“We’re proud of the vital role we play in making sure that everyone involved in the event, competitors, volunteers, officials and media, are all properly hydrated in the desert and have their daily dose of Vitamin D.”
Al Qassimi, whose hopes of a cars victory last year were ruined by a first stage mechanical failure, faces a succession of world-class challengers. They include the 2018 winner and world champion, Poland’s Jakub Przygonski, this time partnered by German co-driver Timo Gottschalk in a MINI John Cooper, as well as last year’s runners-up, Russia’s Vladimir Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov in a Toyota Hillux Overdrive.
Meanwhile, Czech driver Martin Prokop accompanied by Jan Tomanek in a Ford Raptor RS Cross Country will be looking to add to their success in last year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
Other top overseas contenders include Polish driver Bartlomiej Boba and Finland’s Tapio Suominen in the Toyota Hilux which gave them third place in this season’s first World Cup round in the frozen forests of Northern Russia, as well as Miroslav Zapletal and Marek Sykora who placed fourth in that event in a Ford F150 Evo.
Also carrying the UAE flag will be Al Qassimi’s brother, Abdullah Al Qassimi alongside British co-driver Steve Lancaster in a Toyota Hilux, as well as Emiratis Mansoor Al Helei and Khalid Al Kendi in the Nissan Pick-up which took them to fifth place last year.
Al Balooshi faces another strong challenge from UAE-based French rider Benjamin Melot, runner up for the last two years, with Italian rider Manuel Lucchese and UAE-based Richard Brewer looking to build on their fourth and fifth places last year. India’s Aishwarya Pissay, the only woman rider in the field, makes only her second international appearance after crashing in Spain last year and rupturing her pancreas.
Relishing his return to action in Dubai will be Kuwait’s Fahad Al Musallam who will be aiming to complete a hat-trick of quads triumphs on a Yamaha 700 Raptor.
Report and Photos: Total Communications