Abu Dhabi: Domzala wants to defend its leadership

Haren Domzala © DR

– Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Saiedan holds slender FIA T2 advantage in Abu Dhabi

– Free entries awarded to Emirati and GCC entrants at Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

– Top entrants to join race officials and sponsors at media conference on Thursday


Little known Polish cross-country driver Aron Domzala finds himself firmly in the spotlight at the forthcoming Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED BY NISSAN, which starts with a timed super special stage at the Al-Forsan International Resort on April 1.

The Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux driver began his first ever full campaign for honours in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies in superb style and leads the Drivers’ Championship by 11 points. After claiming victory in February’s Baja Russia across the frozen wastelands of the Republic of Karelia, Domzala and navigator Szymon Gospodarczyk finished a solid sixth overall in the Dubai International Baja, the first of two events being organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE) in the space of a month.

Now the Pole faces the formidable task of holding on to that lead over five gruelling days of competition in the desert wilderness of Abu Dhabi against some of the most potent rivals in the sport. Double points are on offer for the longer rounds of this year’s championship as well and that places a greater emphasis on good results here in Abu Dhabi, and in Qatar, Kazakhstan and Morocco later in the season.

The winner of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge will receive 60 points and both Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi will be targeting the top step of the podium. After five days of competition through the dunes of the Rub Al-Khali, the event finishes at the Yas Marina Circuit on April 6.

Al-Attiyah missed the first round in Russia and began the defence of his FIA World Cup crown with victory in the Dubai Baja. He holds second in the championship from a tying Al-Qassimi (Peugeot) and Russian driver Viktor Khoroshavtsev, who is not taking part in Abu Dhabi.

Drivers such as Qatar’s Mohammed Abu Issa (Mini), the experienced Czech Miroslav Zapletal (Hummer) and former FIA World Cup champion, Vladimir Vasilyev (Mini), will also be eyeing podium finishes to keep their title challenges on track.

The FIA T2 Championship is open to drivers of series production cross-country vehicles like the Nissan Patrol, Toyota Land Cruiser and the Isuzu D-Max in near-standard form. Qatar’s Adel Abdulla claimed the 2016 title from Saudi Arabian Yasir Saiedan after an FIA protest was awarded in his favour following last year’s Rally of Morocco.

The pair are locking horns again this season and Saiedan has the early advantage. In the unofficial T2 standings, the Toyota driver holds a 10-point advantage over the Qatari after the two short events. Abu Dhabi-based Lebanese Emil Khneisser (Nissan) finished second in Dubai last month, but is not registered for the FIA series and that has lifted both Saudi Arabia’s Ahmed Al-Malki (Isuzu) and Emirati Mansoor Al-Helai (Toyota) into striking distance.

All four title contenders feature on the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge’s entry list, alongside Khneisser, Kazakh driver Marat Abykayev (Toyota), Oman’s Abdullah Al-Zubair (Nissan) and Saudi Arabia’s Ahmed Al-Shegawi (Toyota)

Entrants from the UAE and other GCC countries benefited from free entry to this year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. Mohammed Ben Sulayem, rally founder and President of the ATCUAE, confirmed that the move was made after the request of His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al-Nahyan, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development and Chairman of the General Authority for Youth and Sports Welfare.

“This is excellent news for the event and the sport in general,