By Sports Reporter/Lusail
The Manateq Qatar Cross-Country Rally (MQCCR) gets underway at Souq Waqif in downtown Doha today evening.
The opening round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies has attracted 33 teams and competitors from 17 nations, all preparing to tackle 1,444.99 competitive kilometres over five days across the varied terrain of the challenging Qatar desert.
A trio of Toyota Hiluxes, run on the event by the Belgian Overdrive Racing team, will start as favourites to claim outright victory and their case was strengthened by last week’s announcement that the 2018 event winner Jakub ‘Kuba’ Przygonski had joined the line-up alongside defending champion Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah and Yazeed al-Rajhi.
Poland’s Przygonski is a former enduro rider who switched to racing on four wheels and achieved considerable success with the X-raid team, culminating in the FIA World Cup title with a MINI in 2018. The Orlen Team driver has left nothing to chance in the build up to the event and followed up a day of testing on Thursday with a short test session with his team-mates on Friday. Al-Attiyah arrived at the service park after taking part in an international skeet shooting competition.
Al-Attiyah said: “This is an important rally for me in Qatar. It is the first round of the cross-country after a good result in the Dakar. After this, we will decide our programme. No changes on the car, but we sent it to South Africa after the Dakar for a full rebuild and now we can use it for a complete season. It will be interesting and it is also nice to see Kuba in the team.”
“It’s great to be a part of this team for the first time,” added Przygonski, who is partnered by German navigator Timo Gottschalk. “I had a good test session yesterday and settled in the car well. It felt comfortable, maybe even a bit lighter than my former car. But, as for the performance, it is difficult to tell, especially when you test on your own and cannot compare with anyone. I guess we will see when the race starts.”
Qatari driver Mohamed al-Meer is also competing in the T1 section with his powerful Chevrolet Buggy and will now be partnered by the experienced Russian co-driver Alexey Kuzmich. Hungarian driver Balazs Szalay (Opel), Khalid al-Feraihi (Nissan) and local driver Abdullah al-Rabban (Jeep) round off the T1 contenders.
The T3 category has attracted an impressive 12 teams to challenge for precious FIA World Cup points. FN Speed has teamed up with the QMMF to run four Can-Am Maverick X3s for Ahmed al-Kuwari, Mubarak al-Hajri, Rashid al-Mohannadi and Mohammed al-Harqan, while Extreme Plus will manage a pair of Polaris RZR 1000Rs for Equador’s Gonzalo Guayasamin and Qatar’s Khalid al-Mohannadi with his French navigator Sébastien Delaunay.
Al-Hajri has enjoyed a long career as both a co-driver and a driver but has not driven competitively since taking part in the Qatar National Rally Championship with Arif Yousef Mohamed in a Subaru Impreza in 2012.
After sitting in his Can-Am in the service park, the former winning co-driver in two rounds of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, said: “It’s great to be back. I chose a T3 because it is a very competitive category and I will be able to judge my pace against a few drivers. It is eight years since I competed, so I don’t know what to expect. I will see how I perform to see whether I carry on in T3 or whether I go back to the special stages.”
Former FIA T2 World Champion Adel Abdulla starts his 2020 rallying campaign in a G-Force T3GF built by the Russian team and Overdrive Racing is running a pair of new prototype OT3 by Overdrive T3s for Dutchman Kees Koolen and defending FIA World Cup Baja champion Fedor Vorobyev.
American racer Austin Jones is making his first appearance in Qatar with new navigator Gustavo Gugelmin in a new South Racing Can-Am Maverick X3. The 24-year-old said: “Obviously I have not seen too much yet, but I noticed that the stones are the same colour as the piste. That will be a little bit challenging. It looks very nice. I’m excited to go driving. The plan is to tackle all five events in the FIA World Cup, so we need to be careful here. A win or a top three would be nice though. Gustavo and I have never ridden together before, but we have known each other for two years. He’s a good guy.”
Russian driver Aleksey Shmotov has entered a Snag Racing Can-Am and he and Saleh al-Saif round off the impressive T3 field.
A strong line-up will also tackle three rounds of the Manateq Qatar National Baja, being held in conjunction with days one, three and five of the FIA event. A quartet of Kuwaiti drivers and Italy’s Camelia Liparoti will join forces with an armada of local teams and eight crews taking part in the FIA event that are also eligible for National Baja points.
Manateq – Economic Zones Company is the title sponsor for the third successive season. Established in 2011, the company is positioned as a vital component in achieving the economic development goals of the Qatar National Vision 2030, through providing premium infrastructure within strategic economic zones to promote the logistics and industrial sectors in Qatar.
Today morning, cars will need to pass rigorous FIA scrutineering checks before they are permitted to start. Several leading drivers will then attend the official pre-event press conference on the podium in Souq Waqif from 19.45hrs, before the ceremonial start takes centre stage in front of hundreds of spectators and the television cameras from 20.30hrs.
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