The dunes of the Dubai International Baja have a history of revealing World Cup winning talent, and expectations are high as the event gets underway in Dubai Festival City.
Today’s (Thursday 1 December) pre-event press conference welcomed competitors from the 2022 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas and 2022 FIM BAJAS World Cup, as the highly anticipated Dubai Baja prepares to deliver a thrilling season finale in both prestigious championships.
Mahir Badri, CEO, EMSO: “This is the final round, and it is such a great pleasure to see so many competitors here.
“We have competitors from more than 30 countries, and the winners in auto, moto and quads will all be decided here in Dubai. We also have the most challenging route in history, which will truly decide the champions.
“With the move of the activities to the heart of the city, we welcome everyone to Dubai Festival City to enjoy all the events over the weekend.”
As the drivers went through the traditional pre-event shakedown ahead of the opening ceremony in Dubai Festival City this evening (Thursday 1 December), the curtain was raised on the tournament before the drivers took to the epic dunes of Dubai.
The press conference also marked the beginning of a new chapter for the Dubai Baja, as the Emirates Motorsports Organisation (EMSO) signals a bright rally future through multiple partnerships with key sponsors, including Al Futtaim-Toyota.
Paul Willis, President, Al Futtaim Automotive: “This partnership means something very important to me. Motorsport is such a special thing, whether you are in the city or the desert.
“The input involved is phenomenal, and it will be a real spectacle. We are very proud to be part of this as Al Futtaim and as a partner with Toyota.”
Alongside the event’s sponsors, the EMSO launched the rally at Dubai International Baja HQ in Dubai Festival City at the start of the holiday weekend. The first leg of the Dubai Baja gets underway on the UAE National Day, setting the stage for an exciting day of celebrations as the fierce competition unfolds.
With things so tight at the top of the championship standings, the Dubai Baja is expected be an exhilarating end to the calendar as both World Cups reach a dramatic conclusion in Dubai Festival City.
Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi will be looking to seal the deal in the sands of Dubai. Al-Rajhi extended his Drivers’ Championship lead over Czech rival Miroslav Zapletal to 10 points with a start-to-finish victory at the Saudi Baja, the seventh and penultimate round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas.
Al-Rajhi will be defending the championship title, which he conquered in 2021 for the first time, with the 2021 Dubai International Baja amongst his accolades that year.
Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU) said: “Happy National Day to everyone in the UAE. It is great to see all the hard work going on here to help grow the sport.
“It is a difficult weekend for us, as we need to try to be perfect, but we will do our best and hopefully the car works until the finish.
“To win in Dubai would be extra special, so we need to manage carefully to make sure we don’t throw away all the hard work of the season, and we will keep going to the finish.”
Meanwhile in the FIM Bajas World Cup, a win at the Saudi Baja for UAE’s own Mohammed
Al Balooshi saw him pull away from rival Fábio Magalhães at the top of the standings with
one round to go.
In 2012, Al Balooshi became the first Emirati to take part in the Dakar Rally, and in 2018 he entered the history books again as the first rider from the region to win the FIM Bajas World Cup title. With points at the Dubai Baja counting for double, the rally will determine who takes this year’s title in a thrilling final showdown.
Mohammed Al Balooshi (UAE) said: “It is my sixth time here and I am looking forward to racing in our beautiful desert.
“I like keeping young racing these guys. I remember racing Konrad’s [Dabrowski] dad, and now I am racing him. Some guys retire, but I will keep racing until I can’t anymore.
“I am a proud Emirati and I love the timing of this race and I will do my best to represent the UAE. I never leave anything on the table, and I am always all in.”
Racing through the dunes will prove a big test of desert driving skill, mechanical muscle, and navigating know-how.
The UAE’s Khalid Al Qassimi is a former Middle East rally champion and one of the UAE’s most experienced competitors, finishing second in the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas. This year Al Qassimi will compete in open category, where he will show his grit but will not score World Cup points.
In the quad catergory, Abdulmajeed Alkhulaifi is an experienced rider. The Saudi Arabian is currently leading the FIM World Cup standings, having scored two wins so far this season, and is sure to be in the mix in Dubai.
Khalid Al Qassimi (UAE) said: “This is my passion, it is in my blood, and that is what keeps me going. We are so grateful to the government and the sporting organisations, but also from the private sector, through Toyota and Al Futtaim, to get more people into the sport.”
Abdulmajeed Alkhulaifi (SAU) said: “I would like to thank Mohammed [Al Balooshi] for giving me the inspiration to get into motorsport. I am not sure how it will go, but I hope to be on the podium.
“I have been competing in quads for five years. I used to use the 700cc, and this time I will be on a smaller 150cc, but we will try out a few new things and see how it goes.”
Taking place under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, the rally is supported by the Dubai Government, Dubai Police, Dubai Municipality, Dubai Sports Council, Al Futtaim-Toyota, RTA, Dubai Customs, ENOC, Aquafina, Dubai Media.