The rolling dunes and plains of Al Qudra desert provide a dramatic stage this weekend when the Dubai International Baja powered by Nissan and AW Rostamani delivers another exhilarating chapter of World Cup cross country rallying at its best.

Vladimir Vasilyev

Taking place under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, the event 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 Bajas World Cup for bikes and quads.


Launched last year by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE) to underline a new direction for rallying in the Emirates, the event has attracted an impressive line-up of 88 competitors from 19 countries for its second edition, and two days of spectacular action is about to unfold.


Leading the chase for the cars title but facing powerful opposition from overseas is the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, last year’s runner up and top seed this time as he looks to go one better alongside French co-driver Xavier Panseri in his Peugeot Abu Dhabi Racing Team 3008 DKR.


The top seed in the bikes category is another experienced UAE contender, Mohammed Al Balooshi, who finished third last year and has set his sights on a first World Cup rally victory to add to his haul of Arab motor cross titles after a major effort to finish the gruelling Dakar Rally in January, 2018.


The cars, buggies, bikes and quads will be flagged away from the ceremonial start at Dubai Autodrome, the new Rally HQ, at 5pm tomorrow night (Thursday 8 March) in an event supported by the Government of Dubai, Dubai Police, Dubai Municipality and the General Authority of Sports.


“This is a very exciting event as it points the way ahead for rallying in the UAE and the Gulf region as a whole,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the ATCUAE and the Emirates Motor Sport Federation, and FIA Vice President for sport, at today’s official press conference.


“The baja format of rallying is naturally more suited to our desert terrain, and the appeal it has for drivers and riders is emphasised by the number and quality of entries.”


Kalyana Sivagnanam, President for Middle East & Regional Vice President for Africa, Middle East and India, Nissan said: “We are proud to be sponsoring this event for a second year, as the motorsports scene in the UAE continues to grow from strength to strength. Nissan is deeply committed to advancing motorsports and rallying around the world, and the Dubai International Baja is a significant event that is enjoyed by enthusiasts and fans in the UAE and abroad.”


Salah Yamout, Director, Sales & Marketing Arabian Automobiles Co. /AW Rostamani Group, said: “The chance to support the national motor sport authority in its efforts to make rallying more affordable, and in the process attract more local-based competitors, is what attracts us. We look forward to making sure that the Dubai International Baja goes from strength to strength.”


Faisal Al Sahlawi, General Manager, Dubai Autodrome, commented: “We are very happy to be extending the very close working partnership we enjoy with the ATCUAE. It’s a partnership which is committed to delivering an ever growing calendar of quality motor sport activities on a world-class stage.”


Tariq Ahmed Al Wahedi, CEO, Agthia Group PJSC, said: “Our longstanding association with the ATCUAE provides an ideal platform to promote Al Ain Water. At Agthia, we understand the evolving needs of our consumers and partners and always strive to meet these through innovation.


“AL AIN VITAMIN D is a great example of realising this commitment. This product not only hydrates but also supplements a portion of the daily intake of Vitamin D.


“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.”


The Nissan Patrol is the official car for the Dubai International Baja, and Emirati Abdulla Al Heraiz partnered by Omani co-driver Abdul Haleem drives one of five entered for the World Cup rally.


The powerful line up of cars, buggies, bikes and quads tackle a demanding 174 km special stage running through the dramatic Al Qudra desert terrain on Friday and again the following morning, with the event finishing at Dubai Autodrome on Saturday (March 10).


With Al Qassimi leading the cars into action, he will be followed away by Czech Martin Prokop and co-driver Jan Tomanek in the Ford F150 Evo which gave them second place in the first round of this year’s FIA World Cup series in Russia’s northern forest.


Russians Vladimir Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov, winners of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in 2014 and 2015, are seeded third in a Mini One ahead of 2017 FIA World Cup runner-up, Poland’s Jakub Przygonski, accompanied by Belgian co-driver Tom Colsoul in another Mini.


Next away in a Toyota Hilux Overdrive is Saudi Arabia’s Yaser Seaidan, fifth overall in last year’s FIA World Cup standings and fifth in Russia recently, partnered by Russian co-driver Aleksei Kuzmich.


Mansour Al Helei, winner of the T2 production class last year, steps up into a T1 prototype Nissan Pick-up partnered by fellow-Emirati co-driver Khalid Al Kendi.


Back in Dubai in search of a second successive buggies success is Ukrainian Vadym Prytuliak who drives solo in a Polaris RZR.


With Al Balooshi leading hopes for a home bikes triumph, he has strong support from UAE-based Shannon O’Connor, Abdulla Bin Dakhan, Mohamed Anis and last year’s runner-up Frenchman Benjamin Melot.


Kuwait’s Fahad Al Musallam is pursuing a second successive victory in the quads category on his Yahamah 700 Raptor.