Mohammed Ben Sulayem has promised the world’s best cross country rally drivers and riders an exhilarating test when the new Dubai International Baja gives UAE motor sport another place on the world stage next month. Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of UAE (ATCUAE), the rally organisers, says the stages sweeping through the Al Qudra desert will provide a thrilling examination for the international line-up of cars, buggies, bikes and quads going into action from 9-11 March.
“The UAE has some of the best desert terrain in the world for this kind of event, and the first Dubai International Baja route will have something for everyone,” he said.
“We’ve got all the ingredients for a classic cross country rally, with big dunes, small dunes, hard-packed sabkha plains, and the best of everything that the Al Qudra desert has to offer a world class event.”
Taking place under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, the 2017 Dubai International Baja will be based at the spectacular Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa.
It 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.
The ATCUAE’s route planning team were out in the desert south of Al Qudra at the weekend for a final drive through prior to finalising the stages.
With entries set to flow in from around the world of cross country rallying, the first prominent names to confirm their place in the line-up were Russian Vladimir Vasilyev and co-driver Konstantin Zhilstov, who scored back-to-back victories in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in 2014 and 2015 in their Mini All4 Racing.
Among the favourites for victory in the cars category will be Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah who succeeded Vasilyev as Desert Challenge champion last year and will be looking to bounce back from his disappointing exit from last month’s Dakar Rally with Mathieu Baumel in a Toyota Hilux.
Also expected to make his presence felt will be flying Finn Mikko Hirvonen, the 2012 World Rally Championship runner-up who marked his Desert Challenge debut last April with third place alongside French co-driver Michel Perini in a Mini, as will the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Bin Faisal Al Qassimi in a Peugeot 2008 DKR.
While he has yet to confirm his entry, the ATCUAE hope Dubai-based Sam Sunderland will make his first competitive appearance in the event following his brilliant Dakar Rally bikes victory.
The 2017 Dubai International is the first part of a three-event swing of the Middle East deserts which also includes the Desert Challenge (1-7 April) and Qatar’s Sealine Cross Country Rally (16-21 April).
Also supported by Dubai Sport Council, Dubai Police and Dubai Civil Defence, the Dubai International Baja has been added to the FIA World Cup series after the ATCUAE’s success in staging an initial candidate event in the Al Qudra desert last month. With the Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa providing a luxurious setting for competitors, officials and media, the rally’s operational HQ and technical parc ferme will be at the nearby Bab Al Shams Arena.