If Ata Al-Hmoud is to retain his Jordan Baja crown in the motorcycle category, the Jordanian rider will need to be fully focused and mentally prepared when the Hashemite Kingdom’s exciting new addition to the global cross-country rallying calendar gets underway in Aqaba on Thursday afternoon.
The Beta 480 rider was in a class of his own at the inaugural event that was observed as a candidate for inclusion in this year’s FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas last September. That performance was all the more surprising considering that the former rally co-driver had only tackled one event on two wheels in Greece before his first foray into timed competition in Wadi Rum.
Al-Hmoud won all four stages last year to secure a winning margin of 3hrs 51min 51sec over Hamza Al-Zawahreh. But that time difference will probably never be repeated now that several new formidable rivals lie on the horizon and the future of the sport on two-wheel looks bright in Jordan with the news that this weekend’s event is being observed for possible future inclusion in the FIM Cross-Country Bajas World Cup.
Al-Zawahreh returns again this year to try and step up a place on the podium on his Kawasaki, but the two Jordanian riders face a stern test from two Kuwaiti and two Emirati racers.
Sultan Al-Balooshi could well be the favourite to claim the win on two wheels. The UAE rider has won the motorcycle section at the Ha’il International Rally for the last two seasons in Saudi Arabia and is also an integral member of the UAE off-road motorcycle community.
He finished fifth in the FIM category at this year’s Dubai International Baja but, like his brother Mohammed Al-Balooshi – who is entered on a KTM 450 Rally in Jordan – the Emirati enjoyed mixed fortunes at Rally TT do Pinhal in Portugal. Mohammed Al-Balooshi was the winner of the 2018 Dubai International Baja and carries out extensive motocross training in the UAE under the MX Academy banner.
These four riders may not have it all their own way, however, and Kuwait’s Abdullah Al-Shatti will be pushing hard for the win. The 34-year-old took part in the Dakar for the first time in January and has tackled numerous races and Bajas in the Gulf. A brand ambassador for Kawasaki in the Middle East, he joined Al-Balooshi’s MX Academy in Dubai last year, but retired from the Dakar after three stages when lying 65th overall. He will ride a KTM 450 Rally in Jordan.
Mohammed Meshari Jaffar had been hoping for success over some of the most stunning desert terrain on the planet, as the Jordan Baja winds its way through spectacular moonscapes and Martian-type sandy terrain.
The Kuwaiti motocross rider began his career in 2007 and won his first regional championship in the UAE in 2011. He was also the 2014 Bahrain MX2 and Kuwait MX1 and MX2 champion. This season he finished fourth at the Dubai International Baja, but will not now be taking part this weekend.
Further competition in the two-wheel category comes from Abdullah Bosmaf’s KTM EXC 500, the Yamaha WR 450F of Saif Al-Abbadi and a late KTM EXC 500F entry for Jordan’s Mohammed Abu Aisheh.
As the first of the riders and drivers start to arrive at Jordan’s premier Red Sea resort, officials at Jordan Motorsport are putting the finishing touches to what promises to be an enthralling spectacle over the coming days. The on-stage action begins with a short super special stage in Aqaba from 4pm on Thursday afternoon (September 19) and this precedes the official pre-event press conference and ceremonial start in the city centre later in the evening.