Dubai, UAE, 7 March, 2017: The UAE’s new entry into World Cup cross country rallying sees the world’s best drivers and riders rubbing shoulders with local privateers and enthusiasts on an international stage this weekend.
Launched as part of the initiative to revive rallying in the Emirates and the Middle East, the Dubai International Baja powered by AW Rostamani and Nissan already looks to be taking the sport in the right direction.
In recent years, the decline of rallying in the region has been seen by falling numbers of entries in both local and international events, a point emphasised by the fact that only four cars started the recent opening round of this year’s FIA Middle East Rally Championship in Doha.
By comparison, the Dubai International Baja has attracted a line-up of 102 competitors – drivers, riders and co-drivers – from 19 Middle East and overseas countries, 31 from the host country, for an intriguing two-day test in the Al Qudra desert.
The quality of entries in Dubai is impressive. A powerful assembly of T1 prototype cars includes the two-times Dakar Rally winner and reigning Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge champion Nasser Al Attiyah of Qatar and the Mini All4 Racing of Russia’s 2015 World Cup champion Vladimir Vasilyev, with new Dakar bikes champion Sam Sunderland back in action on home territory on his KTM.
“It’s a good start, and we’re confident that the numbers will grow year on year because this kind of event is what the rallying community here are telling us they want,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the ATCUAE, the Dubai Baja organisers, and the Emirates Motor Sport Federation.
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.
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 supported by Dubai Police, Dubai Civil Defence, Al Ain Water and AssetCo Fire and Rescue.
The Nissan Patrol is the official car for the UAE’s second FIA World Cup event. 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 main advantages of baja events over conventional rallying are that they are more suited to the desert, and more affordable, being open to quads, bikes and buggies as well as 4WD cars.
Sharing the World Cup stage are Emirati and UAE-based drivers and riders stepping up from the Emirates Desert Championship, a series of short course baja events run on Friday mornings and attracting above 100 entries on occasions since being launched by the ATCUAE four years ago.
They include quads favourite Ahmed Al Maqoodi who won the forerunner to the new event in December in a Polaris, Mansour Al Helei, who has experienced World Rally Championship co-driver Chris Patterson for company in an Abu Dhabi Racing Toyota Land Cruiser, and Sheikh Mohammed Al Qassimi who features in the national class in a Yamaha YHZ with Lebanese co-driver Joseph Matar.
Once again out to prove that she can compete with the best in the world is French-Italian rider Camelia Liparoti, the First Lady of quad racing who in January went the distance for the eighth year in a row in the gruelling Dakar Rally, finishing 13th.
Also an accomplished skier and mountaineer, Liparoti finished quads runner up to world champion Rafal Sonik of Poland in last year’s Desert Challenge and will be aiming to go one better on her return to action in the UAE.