By Our Correspondent/Dubai
Reigning FIA World Cup champion Nasser al-Attiyah produced a first leg master class to take control in the Dubai International Baja powered by AW Rostamani and Nissan today while French rider Benjamin Melot grabbed the lead in the bikes contest.
Partnered by French co-driver Mathieu Baumel in a Toyota Hilux, Qatar’s al-Attiyah powered his way into a lead of 6 mins 12 seconds after the day’s two stages from the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid al-Qassimi and Khalid al-Kendi in their Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 2008 DKR.
Former Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge quads champion Mohammed Abu Issa of Qatar finished the stage another 6 mins 52 secs away in third place in a Mini All4 Racing in the second round of this year’s FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies.
Sheikh Mansoor bin Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum had flagged away the 60 cars, buggies, bikes and quads from the ceremonial start at Bab Al Shams Arena on Thursday evening, in the presence of Ibrahim Abdul Malik, General Secretary of the General Authority of Youth & Sports Welfare, and Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE and Emirates Motor Sport Federation.
Al-Qassimi might have been closer to al-Attiyah but for an early problem. He said: “We had a very good start to SS1 in the morning with great rhythm but then faced some difficulties when driving on the sand as the track was affected by the bikes and cars that started in front of us. So we tried to take a different line and managed to get our rhythm back and regain some of the time we had lost,” he said.
“Approaching the last 10km we hit another obstacle when the jack arm fell off; we tried to pull the arm back up which affected our pace. We also lost a little bit of time when we had to turn and pass the waypoint after 500m, but that’s fine. Anyway, we managed to successfully cross the SS1 finish line but it looks like the jack is bent. In general, the stage was good and we are now looking forward to the remaining stages.”
Czech Republic driver Miroslav Zapletal in a Hummer, Frenchman Ronan Chabot in a Toyota Hilux and World Cup first round winner Aron Domzala of Poland in another Hilux completed the top six.
Capitalising on the early retirement of Dubai-based Dakar Rally champion Sam Sunderland with mechanical problems, Melot completed the first leg holding a 1 min 28 secs lead over South African rider Mark Ackerman, with Italian Alessandro Ruoso in third, just ahead of top Emirati rider Mohammed al-Balooshi. Dubai-based Dave McBride and Kuwaiti Mohammed Jaffar completed the top six in the opening round of this year’s FIM Bajas World Cup.
“We’ve had a great first day of desert rallying, and the excitement generated by the event already suggests it has a very big future,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club or the UAE, the rally organisers, and the Emirates Motor Sport Federation.
Emirati driver Ahmed al-Maqoodi partnered by Obaid al-Kitbi in a Polaris finished the day leading the buggies category and holding ninth place overall.
In the production cars class, young Emirati driver Mansour al-Helei in an Abu Dhabi Racing Land Cruiser had carved out a 5 mins 34 secs lead from the Nissan Patrol of UAE-based Emil Khneisser.
Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Seaidan in another Land Cruiser was 2 mins 40 secs further away in third, with reigning FIA World Cup T2 champion Adel Hussain Abdulla of Qatar fourth in another Nissan Patrol
At the end of two AW Rostamani Arabian Automobiles stages adding up to 174kms, the UAE’s Mohammed al-Shamsi topped the quads standings on his Yahamah 700 Raptor by 1min 20secs from Kuwaiti Fahad al-Musallam on another Yamaha. The UAE’s Humaid al-Mashghouni was another 6 mins 32 secs away in third place on a Honda.
The event finishes at Bab Al Shams Arena at 5pm today after the final 174km Nissan stage.
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