(MENAFN - Gulf Times) Katara, Qatar's cultural village, will be firmly in the spotlight today
evening when it hosts the ceremonial start of the Manateq Qatar
Cross-Country Rally for the first time from 7:30pm.
International motor sporting stars from as far afield as Uruguay and
South Africa and many parts of Europe will line-up against a strong
field of GCC competitors to tackle five days of demanding off-road
action in the Qatar deserts.
The FIA-sanctioned event will be supported by several riders in an FIM
cross-country rally and a strong line-up of Middle East competitors
taking part in the Manateq Qatar Baja.
Qatar's Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah has won all but one of the six Qatar
Cross-Country Rallies that have run since it joined the FIA World Cup
calendar in 2012. The last four victories have been earned with French
co-driver Matthieu Baumel and the duo are clear favourites to give the
two-time Dakar Rally winner a sixth victory on home sand.
Success at the finish this Sunday would also mark a third successive
triumph for Overdrive Racing and the V8-engined Toyota Hilux, which is
running under the colours of Toyota GAZOO Racing South Africa on this
Missing two rounds of this year's series in the UAE could come back to
haunt the Qatari, however, and his absence in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi
in March opened the door for Czech driver Martin Prokop and Poland's
Jakub Przygonski to bag a fistful of championship points apiece.
Prokop, driving a Ford F-150 Evo, currently leads his X-raid MINI rival
by nine points heading into their Qatar showdown. Al-Attiyah is 63
points adrift of the series leader.
Al-Attiyah said: 'Of course, we need to win the 60 points here after
missing two races. I think we need to win here and in Kazakhstan and
then the gap will be closed. We had a shakedown and two days of testing,
500km, and we also test some things because we want to improve from
Dakar. This is the first race for this new car. We improve the
suspension side a lot and the power side.
'It's great that the race will start in Katara. There is sure to be a
nice atmosphere. Then we will do the Prologue the next day and we will
try to have a good position for the first day in the desert.
Russia's Vladimir Vasilyev has achieved some consistent stage
performances this season and useful points-scoring finishes in the UAE
have moved the MINI One driver into third in the rankings 24 points
This quartet should continue the FIA World Cup tussle throughout the
season, although Saudi Arabia's Yasir Seaidan will be hoping to bounce
back from his non-finish in Abu Dhabi and 2009 Dakar winner Giniel de
Villiers would love to secure a podium finish on his first visit to the
event in a third Overdrive Toyota. Dutchman Erik van Loon and Poland's
Aron Domzala complete the five-car line-up for the Belgian team.
Overdrive Racing CEO's Jean-Marc Fortin said: 'Qatar Rally is very
demanding. It's quite similar to Morocco and everyone likes to go to
Morocco to test. It's a combination of hard surfaces and dunes. Dakar
was a good race, but we were in a bit of a rush before. Now we have more
time to think and prepare. The facilities are good here and you exit
the circuit and you are on the test track.
'We have been testing dampers, testing brake pads new makes and a
few items for the drive train. There is still a lot to do. The car is
90% good, but there is still 10% for us to improve in terms of
performance and quality. Nasser is very fast here and it's a good thing
that he restarts his programme on his home event. I am happy to see
(Martin) Prokop and Kuba (Przygonski) here. It will be an interesting
Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Shegawi leads Qatar's Adel Abdulla by a mere six
points in the FIA T2 Championship for series production cross-country
The Toyota Land Cruiser and Nissan Patrol drivers will continue their
dusty duel through the Qatari deserts. Russia's Yuliya Migunova-Khegay
and Romania's Laurentiu Claudiu Barbu will also be scrapping for points
Spain's Jose Luis Pena Campo currently holds a one-point lead over
French veteran Claude Fournier in the T3 category and the two Polaris
RZR 1000 drivers will renew their rivalry in Qatar. The dusty and rocky
deserts are not ideally suited to the lightweight T3 vehicles and the
likes of Spaniard Santiago Navarro, Russian Ravil Maginov and Italy's
Michele Cinotto will need to err on the side of caution if they are to
reach the finish of each of the demanding desert stages.
The event has also attracted additional T1 entries from Qatar's Khalid
al-Suwaidi, Oman's Abdullah al-Zubair, Saudi Arabia's Khalid al-Feraihi
and Spaniard Fernando Alvarez.
While Poland's Maciej Giemza aims for motorcycle glory in the absence of
the KTM and Honda factory teams, Dutchman Kees Koolen and Russian
Alexsandr Maxsimov will be aiming to etch a new name on the list of quad
Several additional motorcycles are running behind the main event in the
Manateq Qatar Baja. Kuwaiti riders Meshari Abou Shibah and Abdullah
al-Shatti face the likes of South Africa's Michael Anderson, while
Mohamed al-Khulaifi and Basem Ali Abuswalleh ride a pair of Yamahas in
the quad section.
The entry list is further boosted by an impressive number of GCC crews tackling the Manateq Qatar Baja in the car category.
Names at the front of the 18-car field include Mohamed al-Mannai, 1993
FIA Middle East rally champion Sheikh Hamed bin Eid al-Thani, Abdulah
Al-Rabban, Mohamed al-Meer and al-Attiyah's cousin Mohamed al-Attiyah.
The Saudi duo of Ahmed Shegawi and Khaled al-Feraihi, Qatar's Adel
Abdulla and Oman's Abdullah al-Zubair are eligible for both the
international and Baja events. Competitors will pass through their
mandatory administration and scrutineering checks at the Losail
International Circuit today morning. Competitive action gets underway
with a timed super special stage at the Losail International Circuit
from 4:15pm tomorrow, April 18.