Dubai, UAE, 9 March, 2019: The UAE’s Khalid Al Qassimi grabbed the half way lead in the Dubai International Baja powered by Nissan and AW Rostamani on Friday (8 March) as he left behind a trail of the world’s top drivers in the Al Qudra desert.
Partnered by Frenchman Xavier Panseri in an Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR, Al Qassmi took a 48-seconds first leg advantage over Jakub Przygonski, Poland’s defending world champion and last year’s winner, in the second round of the 2019 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas for cars and buggies
Przygonski and German Timo Gottschalk in a Mini John Cooper Works Buggy were another 2 mins 9 secs ahead of the third-placed Czech pairing of Martin Prokop and Jan Tomanek in a Ford Raptor RS Cross Country on the 201.6lkm AW Rostamani Arabian Automobiles special stage.
Russia’s two-times Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge winners Vladimir Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov in a Toyota Hilux Overdrive, Lithuania’s Benediktas Vanagas and Bartlomiej Boba in another Hilux and Czech pairing Miroslav Zapletal and Marek Sykora in an F150 Evo completed the top six.
While top Emirati rider and 2018 Dubai Baja winner Mohammed Al Balooshi suffered a major first day setback in the opening round of this year’s FIM Bajas World Cup for bikes and quads, UAE-based South African rider Aaron Mare won the opening leg for the second year in a row.
Al Balooshi, the defending world champion, failed to start the stage after his Kawasaki stopped with engine failure on the road section after leaving Dubai Autodrome.
There were no problems for Mare. The Husqvarna rider built up a 5 mins 17 secs lead from the KTM of UAE-based French rider Benjamin Melot, runner up for the last two years, with Dubai based 2017 winner Mark Ackerman another 2 min 7 secs away in third on a Husqvarna
The bikes top six was completed by Kuwait’s Mohammed Jaffar on a KTM, Emiirati Sultan Balooshi on a Kawasaki and Ryan Blair on another Husqvarna.
“We’ve had a highly competitive first leg and once again the Dubai desert terrain has shown what a great test it provides for the best drivers and riders from across the region and overseas,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organisers, and FIA Vice President for Sport.
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 powered by Nissan and AW Rostamani saw 34 cars and buggies and 39 bikes and quads set off from the rally base at Dubai Autodrome.
The event is supported by the Government of Dubai, Dubai Police, Dubai Municipality, Dubai Autodrome, the General Authority of Sports, Dubai Customs, Al Ain Water and Emarat petrol.
In the T3 Side by Side category Qatar’s Adel Abdulla with French co-driver Jean Michel Polato in a CAN AM Maverick X3 were fastest by 4 mins 59 secs on the day from UAE-based Michel Fadel and Craig Tyson in a Polaris XP 1000.
Kuwaiti Fahad Al Musallam’s bid to complete a hat-trick of quads triumphs on a Yamaha 700 Raptor were ruined by mechanical failure, leaving the UAE’s Honda rider Khalifa Al Raisse to take a convincing 14 mins 35 secs lead over Saudi Arabia’s Abdulmajeed Al Khulaifi on a Yamaha.
For top-seeded driver Al Qassimi it was the ideal start to the Dubai Baja after mechanical failure on the opening day last year ended his hopes of victory, although he still reported a problem.
He finished the stage to say: “We had an issue with the dampener around the 30km mark and it was knocking about so we didn’t want to push the car too much, which probably cost us a minute or two. I’m very happy to finish in first despite the issues – it’s always a good thing.”
Przygonski said: “It was a good day with, nice off piste and terrain but we had to stop and change a wheel. I’m looking forward to tomorrow but the dunes and sand were very soft today and it seems everyone struggled.”
After the overnight halt at Dubai Autodrome the rally heads back out into the Al Qudra desert in the morning for the 204.93km Nissan stage before the event returns to the Autodrome at 12.30pm with the ceremonial finish taking place at 5pm.
Provisional leading positions after AW Rostamani Arabian Automobiles special stage:
- Khalid Al Qassimi / Xavier Panseri (ARE /FRA) / Peugeot 3008 DKR 2:42:27
- Jakub Przygonski / Timo Gottschalk (POL / GER) / Mini John Cooper Works Buggy 2:43:15
- Martin Prokop / Jan Tomanek (CZE / CZE) / Ford Raptor RS Cross Country 2:45:24
- Vladimir Vasilyev / Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS / RUS) / Toyota Hilux Overdrive 2:51:35
- Benediktas Vanagas / Bartlomiej Boba (LTU / POL) / Toyota Hilux 2:51:41
- Miroslav Zapletal / Marek Sykora (CZE / CZE) / F150 Evo 2:56:03
- F Alvarez Catellano / S Lafuente Rocha (ESP/URY) / Volkswagen Amarok 2:58:49
- Andrey Novikov / Vladimir Novikov (RUS / RUS) / G-Force Bars 2:59:47
- Thomas Bell / Patrick Mcmurren (ARE / ARE) / Nissan Navara 3:00:55
- Mark Powell / Chloe Jones (ARE / GBR) / Fast & Speed Buggy 3:03:31
- Aaron Mare (ARE) / HUSQVARNA 450 FC / 1 3:09:15
- Benjamin Melot (ARE) / KTM 450 SXF / 1 3:14:32
- Mark Ackerman (ARE) / HUSQVARNA FX 450 / 1 3:16:39
- Mohammed Jaffar (KUW) / KTM SXF 450 / 1 3:17:49
- Sultan Balooshi (ARE) / Kawasaki KX 450 / 1 3:21:55
- Ryan Blair (ARE) / HUSQVARNA FC 450 / 1 3:23:02
- Abdullah Taleb Al Shatti (KUW) / Kawasaki KX 450 / 1 3:24:55
- Richard Brewer (ARE) / YAMAHA YZ 450 FX / 1 3:31:18
- Khalifa Al Raisse (ARE) / Honda 700 TRX / 2 3:33:38
- Shannon O’Connor (ZAF) / KTM 450 SXF / 1 3:33:50
Report and Photos: Total Communications (edited)