– Leading FIA World Cup teams begin logistical preparations to tackle event for first time
After three consecutive rounds of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies in the Gulf region of the Middle East, attention in the world’s premier cross-country rallying series now switches to Rally Kazakhstan, the exciting new fifth round of the series taking place in central Asia on May 20-27.
The last three rounds of the championship in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar have shown how intense and exciting competition has become in both the FIA T1 and T2 categories, with Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Saiedan holding the unofficial advantages in both categories.
But any international competitors who has never taken part in the Silk Way Rally will have little idea of what to expect over what promises to be six days of varied desert action to the east of the shores of the Caspian Sea on the western side of Kazakhstan.
Overdrive Racing’s CEO Jean-Marc Fortin is planning to take two or three Toyotas to Kazakhstan. He said: logistically it’s difficult for us to come to Kazakhstan. We used to say the same when Egypt was a round of the championship. But everyone is very enthusiastic about it and it’s a great opportunity for us to see a new rally and new terrain.
One of those drivers who should be at the wheel of one of the South African-built Toyota Hiluxes is Qatar’s two-time Dakar winner Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, the defending FIA World Cup champion and winner of both the Dubai International Baja and Qatar Cross-Country Rally so far this season.
Kazakhstan will be new to me, but it’s fantastic to see a new rally in the FIA World Cup and I have heard that the stages are varied and challenging, said Al-Attiyah, who has also hinted that he may be taking part in the Silk Way Rally as well this season.
One of Overdrive Racing’s fiercest rivals in recent seasons has been the German-based X-raid team with its fleet of Mini All4 Racings and the new Mini John Cooper Works Rally.
Tobias Quandt, son of team founder Sven, was the acting team manager for the Mini X-raid team at the recent Qatar Cross-Country Rally. He said: We are looking forward to going to Kazakhstan. We really enjoyed it when we passed through the country in the Silk Way Rally. I am sure organisation will be strong. It’s a new event and it’s important that we support these events for them and for the championship to flourish.
While the likes of Toyota and X-raid and, potentially, Peugeot should be pushing for overall honours at the inaugural Rally Kazakhstan, the FIA T2 category is also becoming increasingly popular. Open to cars such as the Nissan Patrol and Toyota Land Cruiser that adhere to regulations governing series production cross-country vehicles, the series is currently being headed by Yasir Saiedan in his Toyota.
The defending champion is Adel Abdulla from Qatar, however, but the Nissan Patrol driver has struggled with misfortune at his last two events, despite setting fastest times, and wants to set the record straight with a good performance on his first visit to the event.
Adel Abdulla said: I am very pleased that there is another cross-country event in the calendar. The rally is new and it reflects that the championship is global and international by visiting that part of Asia. Because it is a cross-country round of the championship it also gives me a chance to catch my T2 rivals and score more points!
Organised by the Automotorsport Federation of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the rally starts and finishes in the main square in Aktau City, although it will be based at the Kenderly Sea Resort, around 220km from Aktau, for three nights after the second selective section on May 22.