The UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi powered his way into a commanding lead on the opening leg of the inaugural Abu Dhabi Baja today as the new event presented a demanding test for drivers and riders among the dunes of the Rub Al Khali.

Partnered by British co-driver Chris Patterson in the Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 2008 Dakar, Al Qassimi, top seed in the T1 Autos category, won the 97-km Arada Special Stage 1 by 21 mins 57 secs from Emirati Nooh Bu Hamaid in a Nissan Patrol.

On a day when a succession of cars became trapped in treacherous soft sand, Mansoor Parol and co-driver Imran Mahmood were third quickest in a Toyota Prado ahead of Argentinian driver Ariel Jaton in the all-electric ACCIONA 100% EcoPowered.

Taking place under the patronage of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council and organised by the Emirates Motorsport Club (EMC), the fifth round of the 2019 UAE Baja Championship sent 44 competitors into action from the rally base at the renowned Moreeb Dune near the Liwa oasis.

Al Qassimi, who leads the T1 title race after winning three of the previous rounds, said at the end of the leg: “It was a difficult stage because I was opening the road.

“But it was good learning experience because you have to take your time in the dunes. Because of the time of day the light makes it hard to see over the crests. But we put in a good average speed and it was good training.”

While Al Qassimi is well accustomed to hitting the front in cross country rallies, it was a new experience for UAE-based KTM rider Micheal Docherty who was the surprise leader in the fiercely contested Motos 450 category.

The Dubai-based South African, who has competed in moto cross for 18 years, ended his first ever cross country rally stage leading by 13 seconds from fellow countryman Aaron Mare on a Honda, with Kuwait’s Mohammed Jaffar in third place, 1 min 53 secs back on another KTM.

“That was an awesome ride,” said Docherty. “I was going into the unknown really, riding with GPS for the first time, not knowing what to expect. But I’m not surprised to be leading because no-one wants to start first tomorrow.”

Top Emirati KTM rider Mohammed Al Balooshi, the No.1 seed and narrow championship leader, had to settle for fourth fastest on the day, with his nearest title rival, Dubai-based Dave McBride, in sixth.

The 280km event reaches its conclusion tomorrow afternoon on completion of the 105-km Moreeb Special Stage 2 getting under way at 8am.

Provisional leading positions- T1 Autos

1. Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi / Chris Patterson (UAE/UK) / Peugeot 2008 DKR     1:38.09

2. Nooh Bu Hamaid / Salim Al Ali (UAE / UAE) / Nissan Patrol                             2:00.06

3. Mansoor Parol / Imran Mahmood (UAE / UAE) / Toyota Prado                          2:47.36

4. Ariel Jaton / Eduardo Blanco (ESP / ESP) / ACCIONA 100% EcoPowered       2:53.50

5. Khaled Al Jafla  (UAE) / Dunebike / Armada                                                       2:56.22

6. Ahmed Barakat / Amira Khalil (UAE / UAE) / Nissan Patrol                               2:58.59

Provisional leading positions – Motos 450

1. Micheal Docherty (UAE) / KTM 450 SX-F                                  1:14.53

2. Aaron Mare (UAE) / Honda 450 Rally                                           1:15.06

3. Mohammed Jaffar (KWT) / KTM 450 SX-F                                 1:16.59

4. Mohammed Balooshi (UAE) / KTM Rally Moto 450                   1:19.56

5. Rashed Abdulla (UAE) / KTM 250 SX                                         1:21.08

6. David McBride (UAE) / KTM 450 SX-F                                      1:23.12

7. Sultan Al Balooshi (UAE) / Kawazaki KX 250 F                          1:23.37

8. Abdullah Al Shatti (KWT) / KTM Rally Moto 450                       1:24.57

9. Richard Brewer (UAE) / Yamaha YZ 450 FX                               1:27.08

10. Abdulla Abu Aisheh (JOR) / KTM 350                                       1:27.14

Captions:        

1.  Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi taking a commanding lead in his Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 2008 Dakar. 2.  Micheal Docherty – won his frst ever cross country rally stage.

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