Battle for two-wheel supremacy heads to deserts of Qatar

Sam Sunderland © DR

– Dakar champion Sunderland leads FIM series by seven points after recent Abu Dhabi win

The fascinating battle to decide the winner of this year’s FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship heads to the deserts of Qatar next week, when the world’s leading desert riders will go head-to-head at the Qatar Cross-Country Rally.


Dakar champion Sam Sunderland leads the five-round series after his tactical victory at last week’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. The Dubai-based Briton will be hoping to repeat last year’s victory in Qatar to boost his points tally and extend the Red Bull KTM Factory Team’s lead in the Manufacturers’ competition.

“I remember last year it was a lot of hard work over a period of about six months to come back after I broke my femur and missed the Dakar,” said Sunderland. “Sitting at home watching Dakar was a really tough time for me mentally and physically. One year on and I come here as the Dakar champion and I have just won the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. It’s quite unbelievable really.”

The three factory teams and eight professional riders, who dominated the deserts of the UAE last week, will all be present for the five-day second round of the FIM event being staged by the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF).

While present form may give Sunderland the slight advantage, the Qatar event is a totally different prospect to the dunes of Abu Dhabi. The event based at Losail takes place across much more varied desert terrain, features some dune sections and also rocky and stony desert and winding and deceptive tracks. There is far more emphasis on navigation and reading the road book accurately and even the slightest navigational error can be very costly.

Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla of the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Team is the top seed and defending FIM World Champion. The South American would love to follow in the footsteps of Sunderland, Marc Coma and Joan Barreda Bort and reach the top step of the podium in Qatar. While Sunderland has the talented Austrian Matthias Walkner and Frenchman Antoine Meo as his side kicks in the KTM team, Frenchman Pierre Alexandre Renet lines up alongside Quintanilla.

The Monster Energy Honda Team is overdue a good result. A servicing error cost them dearly on the Dakar and an injury for Barreda Bort has not helped progress at the start of the season. That aside, Portugal’s Paulo Gonçalves is an experienced campaigner and led the recent Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge into the final morning before finishing fourth. He teams up with Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, who rode well in the UAE after a recent injury.

Ride to Abu Dhabi Team’s Mohammed Al-Balooshi was the highest of the non-professional riders at the opening round and the KTM rider is keen to better that seventh position now he has returned to full fitness following a crash in Qatar last year.

Vendetta Racing’s David McBride and David Mabbs and Qatar’s Ahmed Al-Kuwari bolster a motorcycle entry that also includes the Polish Orlen Team duo of Adam Tomiczek and Maciej Giemza.

Rafal Sonik has won the quad category in Qatar on three occasions (2012, 2013 and 2015), but the Pole admitted after the recent Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge that pushing for another Quad World Championship title would be very difficult after fuel and engine issues dropped him to ninth at the opening round.

Kuwait’s Fahad Al-Musallam won the UAE event and leads the series by five points from Poland’s Kamil Wisniewski. The second member of the Sonik Team will not take part in the Qatar event this coming week and Sonik faces a fascinating tussle with the likes of Argentina’s Lucas Innocente, Peru’s Alexis Hernandez Ponce, Guatamala’s Rodolfo Schippers and Dutch rider Kees Koolen.

“The motorcycle and quad categories offer some of the closest competition in cross-country rallying and tactics are often just as important as outright speed,” said QMMF President Abdulrahman Al-Mannai. “We are delighted to see the top movers and shakers in both disciplines preparing to take part in our event next week.”

Competition starts with a new 5.54km super special stage at Losail on Tuesday (April 18) within the confines of the Losail motocross premises. Access is free to spectators.

FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship – positions after round 1:
1. Sam Sunderland (GBR), 30 pts
2. Pablo Quntanilla (CHI), 23 pts
3. Matthias Walker (AUT), 19 pts
4. Paulo Gonçalves (PRT), 16 pts
5. Pierre Alexander Renet (FRA), 15 pts
6. Antoine Meo (FRA), 13 pts
7. Mohammed Al-Balooshi (ARE), 12 pts
8. Mohammed Jaffar (ARE), 11 pts
9. Adam Tomicek (POL), 10 pts
10. David McBride (GBR), 9 pts…

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