The 2011 Qatar International Baja gets underway at the Sealine Beach Resort, south of Doha, on Friday morning. A bumper entry of cars, motorcycles and quads will tackle two days of competitive action in this new candidate event for inclusion in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.
Taking a break from his quest to win back his FIA Middle East Rally Championship title and finalising his WRC programme for 2012, Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah teams up with the 2010 Dakar-winning co-driver Lucas Cruz Senra from Spain, for the first time to start as the top seed in the car category in his German-built SAM Mercedes 35CC. The Qatari is relishing the prospect of winning his third Qatar Baja in different cars and with three different co-drivers.
Al-Attiyah has encyclopaedic knowledge of Qatar’s desert terrain and is the undoubted favourite for success provided that the new SAM Mercedes is reliable. “The SAM-Mercedes drive is a great opportunity for us to test the new car and give technical feedback to Sven Knorr and his team from Germany,” said Al-Attiyah. “Maybe we will do another event with them in 2012, but I am confident that the car will be competitive.”
The Qatari’s competition is evenly matched and includes a truly international field of entrants from the Ukraine, England, Wales, France, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Canada and Oman.
Vadym Nesterchuk leads the Ukrainian challenge in a Toyota Land Cruiser 200, Dubai’s Sheikh Suhail bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum wheels out a powerful Land River 110 and young Emirati Mansoor Al-Helai hopes to follow in his father Yayha’s footsteps and become one of the leading off-road drivers in the Middle East.
Al-Helai has numerous top five finishes to his name in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and was regularly the leading privateer driver behind the factory teams in the halcyon days of the Desert Challenge.
The international feel to the entry list is not lost on the motorcycle and quad categories either. Qatar’s Meshal Al-Emadi and Adel Hussein Abdulla top the starters in the respective categories in an entry list where the UAE, Australia, Germany, Italy, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and England are all represented.
Mohammed Balooshi will become the first ever Arab to ride in the Dakar Rally in January and the Emirati heads the field of motorcycles in the Open class on his KTM 530 EXC. Turkey’s Kaan Bilgen and Germany’s Rico Langer offer the European challenge with their KTMs.
Other potential front-runners in the motorcycle cayegory include young Dubai-based British rider Sam Sunderland, Australia’s Justin Taylor, the UAE’s Khalid Al-Falasi and Italy’s Andrea Brunod. American rider Tonya Colson is the only female on the entry list at the helm of her KTM 450 EXC.
“I would like to wish all our competitors a safe and successful Qatar International Baja,” said Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah, president of the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF). “Our team has worked hard to arrange a demanding route, while placing an emphasis on safety for the competitors.”
The ceremonial start will take place at the Sealine Beach Resort, Mesaieed, from 12:50 local time on Friday and will be followed by a 6.5 kilometer special stage at 14:15 local time.
Leg two consists of two special stages, starting with the 243.68 kilometers Al-Kharara section at 08:25 on Saturday morning and finishing with the 102.32 kms Khor Al-Odaid section, starting at 13:15. The finish ramp will take place adjacent to the parc ferme area at 15:30.
Leading starters ind the Cars Category
301) Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Lucas Cruz Senra (E) I SAM Mercedes 35 CC
302) Vadym Nesterchuk (UKR)/Laurent Lichtleuchter (FRA)) I Toyota Land Cruiser 200
303) Suhail bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum (UAE)/Wael Marjan (UAE)) I Land Rover 110
304) Nabil Al-Shamsi (UAE)/Arif Yousef Mohamed (UAE)) I Nissan Patrol
305) Mohammed Al-Mannai (QAT)/Nasser Sadoon Al-Kuwari (QAT)) I GMC
306) Mark Powell (GBR)/Quin Evans (GBR)) I Predator X-18S
307) Mansoor Al-Helai (UAE)/Ali Mirza (UAE)) I Nissan Patrol
308) Ibrahim Al-Mohana (KSA)/Osama Al-Sanad (KSA)) I Nissan Patrol
309) Ahmed Al-Qashawi (KSA)/Mohammed Al-Shami (KSA)) I Nissan Patrol
Leading starters ind the Bikes 450 Category
01) Meshal Al-Emadi (QAT) I Honda CRF 450X
02) Khalid Al-Falasi (UAE) I Yamaha WK 450
03) Sam Sunderland (GBR) I Honda CRF 450X
04) Justin Taylor (AUS) I Honda CRF 450X
05) Andrea Brunod (ITA) I Husqvarna TE449
Leading starters ind the Bikes Open Category
01) Mohammed Balooshi (UAE) I KTM 530 EXC
02) Kaan Bilgen (TRK) I KTM 530
03) Rico Langer (GER) I KTM 690
Leading starters ind the Quads Category
01) Adel Hussein Abdullah (QAT) I KTM XC 525
02) Dennis Nikitopoulos (AUS) I Yamaha Raptor 700
03) Nasser Hassan Al-Rabaan (QAT) I KTM 530
04) Obaid Al-Kitbi (UAE) I Honda TRX 70