The Dubai International Baja has a habit of showing what World Cup winners are made of, and expectations are high again this weekend as the fourth edition of the event unfolds in the Al Qudra desert.
The 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas for cars is already up and running, and top-seed Denis Krotov arrived in Dubai from the sub zero temperatures of the Baja - Northern Forest, where his challenge in this season’s opener ended when he became stuck in a snowdrift.
Partnering Krotov in an X-raid MINI John Cooper Works Rally is Konstantin Zhiltsov, who has twice guided Vladimir Vasilyev, the first round winner, to victory in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
The first three editions of the Dubai Baja brought wins for competitors who went on to take World Cup titles that year. The 2018 bikes champion, Emirati Mohammed Al Balooshi, is seeded seventh this time, such is the strength of the 43-rider line-up for the first round of this year’s FIM Bajas World Cup.
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 sponsored by Dubai Electricity & Water Authority, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park and Arabian Automobiles Nissan.
Based at DEWA’s Innovation Centre located at the Solar Park, the rally enters the record books as the first FIA World Cup cross-country event to be run on solar power.
“We’re very happy to be setting a trend towards sustainability in rallying, and we’re expecting another classic baja event,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Emirates Motorsports Organization and FIA Vice President for Sport.
Nissan’s sponsorship of the event for a fourth year extends a long standing partnership between the manufacturer and the EMSO, the national motor sport authority.
Michel Ayat, Chief Executive Officer – AWR Automotive, said: “The Dubai International Baja is another exemplary event that further consolidates the emirate’s leading global position in the world of sports. As the official automotive sponsor, AW Rostamani Group consistently supports events of this caliber and is grateful to Mohammed Ben Sulayem for his unwavering drive and ambition.
“2021 is a year of recovery and a return to life as we know it, and it gives us great honour and privilege at Arabian Automobiles to be once again sponsoring the rally. We are grateful for all the initiatives that our wise leadership introduce and for all the support they offer to international events of this nature that strengthen Dubai’s influence on a regional and global scale.”
Friday’s 192km DEWA’s Innovation Centre Special Stage, carving through the Al Qudra dunes, presents a big test of desert driving skill and mechanical muscle. After an overnight halt, the survivors tackle Saturday’s 194 kms Arabian Automobiles Nissan.Special Stage leading to the finish at the Innovation Centre.
Following successive Dubai victories by Poland’s Jakub Przygonski, two of the Arab world’s leading drivers aim to prevent a third successive overseas victory.
This could mean a big duel between the UAE’s Khalid Al Qassimi, twice a runner-up and partnered by German Dirk Von Zitzewitz in an Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR, and Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi, joined by British co-driver Michael Orr in a Toyota Hilux Overdrive.
Czech Miroslav Zapletal with Slovakian Marek Sykora in a Ford F150 Evo, the UAE’s Yahya Al Helei and Khalid Al Kendi in a Nissan Pick-up, and fellow Emiratis Khalid Al Jafla and Mirza Ali in a Toyota Hilux, complete the top six out of 29 car entries.
With 15 buggies on show, Britain’s Conrad Rautenbach in a Zephyr heads the T3 class. Top seed in T4, Saudi Saleh Alsaif in a Maverick X3, is up against France’s first round winner, Claude Fournier, and Spanish bikes star Laia Sainz, 13-time Trials World Champion, who moves from two wheels to four.
Two UAE-based South Africans lead the charge in the opening round of this year’s FIM Bajas World Cup for bikes. Last year’s winner Aaron Mare on a Honda and 2017 champion Mark Ackerman riding a Husqvarna, top the seeds ahead of the UAE’s Sultan Al Balooshi and British KTM rider Sam Smith.