Drivers and officials pose for a picture after the press conference.
Gulf Today, Staff Reporter
After months of preparation, Dubai International Baja is finally underway as the competitors face into the demanding dunes of the Emirate. Rally weekend began on Friday with a ceremonial start and the all-new nighttime prologue at Dubai Festival City.
As the competitors head towards the Al Futtaim Toyota stage on leg one in Al Qudra desert on Saturday, all eyes are on the intriguing battle between established off-road star Nasser Al Attiyah in his new Prodrive Hunter and the 21-year-old tyro from Califronia, Seth Quintero who has replaced him at Toyota Gazoo Racing.
Far from feeling threatened by the emerging challenge of youth, the 18-times Middle East Rally Champion is energized by the prospect of a battle with Quinetrro and 2021 winner Yazeed Al Rajhi.
“Yazeed is one of the strongest competitors,” said Atiyah. “He comes every year and now we have Seth who has taken my place in Toyota GR and I’m so happy to see a new generation (emerging). Thanks to Toyota for bringing a new generation into this kind of racing.
“Sometimes you need to open the door to the other competitors. I spent six or seven years at Toyota and we won everything. Thanks to them and now we have switched to Prodrive Hunter and it will be a really nice fight between all the teams.
“I am really excited (to be with my new team) and really excited to be here in Dubai to test my new car because it will be tough terrain and not easy. I have a lot of experience of this kind of road and this is the reason we send the car here to have feedback for the next step in Dakar and we are here to win this race.”
2021 winner Rajhi was quick to acknowledge the support of local government authorities in making the event possible and was looking forward to facing off against Attiyah and Quintero among others as he looks to complete his injury blighted season on a high note.
“Thank you to the Dubai Government and Emirate for supporting our sport. Thank you to all the government sectors, the police, the army and all the sponsors for helping.
“Sure, our target, me and my team, is to come and fight against competitors who are top drivers at a high level. It won’t be an easy weekend but the important thing is that everybody enjoys it. I hope everything goes well with us and everybody else. That’s the most important thing.
For his part Quintero was quick to pay tribute to the assistance he had had from teammate Rahji and Attiyah in fast tracking his development.
“I’m super, super excited to be even sitting next to these guys and they’re in a class of their own. I’ve looked up to them for a very, very long time. The whole time in race and rally these two guys have been kind enough to take me under their wing and show me the ropes which has been amazing and to finally step up with Toyota Gazoo Racing Team and to get my opportunity to race a T1 against these guys is definitely a blessing and I’m definitely looking forward to it.
Dania Akeel, the first ever Saudi woman to compete in international rallying recognised the part Dubai has played in her motorsport odyssey.
Flying the flag for the local fans is Mohammed Al Balooshi, one of the Middle East’s top motocross and cross-country riders with a string of titles and likely to challenge this weekend after mechanical issues stymied his 2022 bid.
“It’s very exciting for me, he said. “There is, like, a healthy pressure. I like this kind of pressure because it’s exciting and I’m pumped up to go and in Dubai it’s always full gas. David (Megre) spoke to me last night and asked me about my gearing and I told him. In bikes it’s very tranquil, very easy. In the cars, it’s different.”
Sarah Khuraibet of Kuwait leads the Women World Cup classification with only Dubai round to go and has a special bond with Dubai.
“Dubai was actually my first rally so for me to come back here and hopefully finish on the podium it’s going to be coming full circle almost.
“I’m going to do my best and hopefully bring the title home but, honestly, I’m very proud of where I’ve come from in the last two years to here so I don’t really have the pressure to win.” On the quads, Frenchman Kevin Giroud will start favourite at an event which will be a new experience for him“I love the desert, I love this race and we will see if I can take the win on the quad. It’s my first participation here and so far so good.”
Following the Friday evening nighttime prologue, the event continues on Saturday morning with the first competitor into action at 8:01 for 336.51km of driving and riding of which 17okm is on the Al -Futtaim Toyota special stages.
Mahir Badri, Chief Executive Emirates Motorsport Organization (EMSO), welcomed competitors and spectators to the event:
“When we started to prepare for Dubai Baja, we had one goal - how to make this rally an exceptional version, and to create memories for our competitors, spectators and our partners.
Dubai Autodrome, a subsidiary of Union Properties, will host 12 regional and international motorsport competitions over the next six months until April 2024.
In his manifesto he promised an outside audit of the governance, and an evaluation of their finances plus budget reports and transparency over their finances. Ben Sulayem, 14 times the Middle East rally champion, was supported by his region, which is becoming increasingly influential in motor sport.
Attiyah said: "It was a good last stage and completely different to the first three. It was all gravel through the mountains. It was fantastic and we are obviously very happy with the result.
Peterhansel is the most decorated driver at the Dakar Rally, having won an unprecedented 13 titles. His 14th win and record eighth in a car are pending on the last stage back to Jeddah, where the rally in Saudi Arabia started 11 days ago.
Both teams will first meet in two 50-over warm-up games on Dec.25 and 27 respectively, and is followed by three T20Is scheduled to be played on Dec.29 and 31, plus on Jan.2 at Sharjah International Cricket Stadium.
Leaders Al Wasl will look to consolidate their position on the top of the table when they take on rivals Al Wahda in their Round 10 match of the Pro League on Friday.
CEO Mauro Gianetti emphasised the team's role in driving positive social impact and supporting the UAE's decarbonisation goals through a comprehensive sustainability programme.