Despite badly damaging his Toyota Hilux in a high-speed barrel-roll near the end of a selective section at the recent Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah has agreed a deal to drive a borrowed Toyota and starts as the favourite to win this weekend’s Qatar International Baja.
Theevent is the second round of the 2023 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas and Al Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel head to pre-event formalities at the Lusail Sports Complex with eight-point advantages in their respective Drivers’ and Co-Drivers’ Championships, courtesy of outright victory at the Saudi Baja-Ha’il last month.
FIA T3 and T4 cars have graced the top 10 on numerous cross-country events in the last few seasons: American Seth Quintero finished third at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in a T3 Can-Am and Poland’s young Eryk Goczal won the Dubai International Baja last December in a T4 Can-Am. But no T3 or T4 machine has ever won in Qatar. That means Al Attiyah and his six rivals in the latest T1+ machines and three drivers of older specification T1 cars should battle it out for overall victory.
Way back in 2004 when the Qatar Baja was based out of Sealine, south of Doha, the Qatari secured victory with Frenchman Didier le Gal in a Chevrolet Pro Truck and he repeated the feat the following season with Alain Guehennec in a BMW X5.
The event didn’t run again until 2011 when it took place to a Baja-type format as a candidate for inclusion in the 2012 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies. Al Attiyah won again, this time with Spanish co-driver Lucas Cruz in a SAM Mercedes 35CC.
As a round of the five-day FIA World Cup, Al Attiyah won with Cruz in a Toyota in 2012, with Mathieu Baumel in a Mini All4 Racing in 2014 and 2015 and with Baumel in a Toyota again in 2016.
Further wins followed with Baumel and Toyota in 2017, 2019, 2020 and 2022. There was no car event in 2021, the year the event became a shorter Baja again.
This year, Al Attiyah will drive a Hilux that has been flown in especially from Portugal and will then be rebuilt in time to be used by Lithuanian driver Benediktas Vanagas at Spain’s Baja Extramadura in mid-April. The five-time Dakar winner will then use a new DKR Hilux for the Sonora Rally in México next month.
Al Attiyah said: “Obviously we are grateful to Benediktas and his team for supplying the car.
This is my home event and it is so important to me that I can perform well in front of the local fans and continue my run of success here in Qatar.”
Al Attiyah was joined by several of his main rivals and leading motorcyclists for the official pre-event press conference at the Lusail Sports Complex yesterday evening.
The Qatari’s Argentinean team-mate Juan Cruz Yacopini is his closest challenger in the title race after round one and drives the second of four Toyota T1+ Hiluxes and the first of three running under the Overdrive Racing banner.
Denis Krotov switches to the Toyota that was used by South Africa’s Henk Lategan at the recent Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and Frenchman Ronan Chabot returns to cross-country action to drive the fourth car.
Krzysztof Holowczyc is a formidable opponent and the experienced Pole drives the sole Mini JCW Rally Plus in the field. He holds third in the points’ standings alongside co-driver Lukasz Kurzeja.
The event has also attracted a pair of official Baic ORV BJ40s that have been built in China and will be driven by Guoyu Zhang and Yunliang Zi.
The cars appeared at the recent Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and are registered for FIA World Cup Baja points.
Saudi Border Guard team driver Khalid Al Feraihi is chasing FIA Middle East Cup points in his Nissan Patrol and again teams up with Frenchman Sébastien Delaunay. He holds seventh in the Drivers’ Championship after a disappointing opening round.
Italy’s Stefano Moro (Mitsubishi) and local driver Abdullah Al Rabban (Chevrolet) wrap up the T1 field.
There are three T2 Nissan entries in the category for series production cross-country machines and all three are for Saudi drivers.
Ibrahim Al Muhanna and Ahmed Al Shegawi are chasing FIA Middle East Cup points and Majed Al Thunayyan is registered for the FIA World Cup.
Today, competitors will complete any late scrutineering checks before the competitive action gets underway with a 9.08km Prologue stage from 14.40hrs (motorcycles) and 15.40hrs (cars) onwards. This precedes the ceremonial start at a new location on Lusail Boulevard, starting with the motorcycles and quads from 19.20hrs.