The inaugural Abu Dhabi Baja gets under way tomorrow morning, with drivers and riders urged to savour their appearance on one of the best stages in the world for off road rallying.
Taking place under the patronage of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council and organised by the Emirates Motorsport Club (EMC), the 280km two-day event is the fifth of six rounds in the 2019 UAE Baja Championship and gives an extra dimension to the new series.
Sweeping across the dunes and sabkha plains of the Rub Al Khali, the Abu Dhabi Baja becomes the flagship event, providing competitors with a greater test, in a championship otherwise featuring one-day rallies.
“We launched the championship this year to help secure the future of rallying in the UAE through events which are more affordable and open to a wide range of competitors from entry level upwards,” said Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi, Founder and President of the EMC.
“The Abu Dhabi Baja is the next step up for drivers and riders. The route is both challenging and fair, running through some of the most dramatic desert terrain on earth. There is no better place in the world for off-road rallying. We want everyone to enjoy it.”
H.E. Aref Hamad Al Awani, General Secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, will present the trophies at the official prize giving taking place at 4pm on Saturday at Moreeb Dune, the rally’s base with the backing of Liwa Sport Club.
The event has attracted a line-up of 44 drivers and riders competing in T1, T2, Group S and UTV auto classes, as well as Motos 450, 250 and quad categories, with prize money on offer in each class.
Top seed in the T1 Autos category is the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi accompanied by British co-driver Chris Patterson in the Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 2008 Dakar. The car has taken Al Qassimi to wins in three of the previous four previous rounds, although he was denied a good finish in Saudi Arabia’s Al Ula–Neom Cross-Country Rally last weekend by a serious oil leak.
Emirati KTM rider Mohammed Al Balooshi, No.1 seed and championship leader in the Motos 450 category, can afford no mistakes in the big bikes title race. Only 11 points separate him from the chasing trio of KTM riders Dave McBride and Kuwaiti Mohamed Jaffar, and Dubai-based South African Aaron Mare, on a Honda.
Like Al Qassimi, two other UAE drivers will also be seeking their fourth victories in the championship – Ahmad Barakat partnered by Amira Khalil in a Group S Nissan Patrol, as well as Saif Al Muhairi who leads the UTV auto class for four-wheel side-by-side vehicles in a Yamaha YXZ.
While Saleh Al Saif tops the UTV T class, he will be aiming to record his first outright victory of the series in a Can Am X3.
UAE rider, Ahmed Al Mulla, meanwhile has the chance to wrap up the quads crown while Abdulla Lanjawi will be pressing his championship hopes in the Motos 250 class.
The 97-km Arada Special Stage 1 gets underway at 11am tomorrow (Friday), with the 105-km Moreeb Special Stage 2 starting at 8am the following day.
1. Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi – top-seeded T1 driver in his Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 2008 Dakar. 2. Mohammed Al Balooshi – No.1 seed in the Motos 450 category.