DAMMAM (SAUDI ARABIA): An impressive number of Saudi and GCC drivers and riders tackling the opening round of the 2021 Saudi Toyota Desert Rally Championship have boosted the field for this weekend’s Sharqiyah International Baja in the Eastern Province.
In addition to hosting the opening round of the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas, the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF) is running a National Rally behind the FIA event and a category for motorcycles and quads.
Forty-three cars and one truck will tackle the National Rally and, subject to pre-event technical checks, they will be joined by 32 motorcycles and 14 quads. Desert rallying is one of the fastest-growing sports in the Middle East and the impressive number of entries in national events is an encouraging sign for the sport’s glowing future in the region.
Al-Mashna Al-Shammeri heads the National field in his Nissan Patrol and faces competition from a Saudi-dominated entry including the likes of former Hail Rally winner Faris Al-Mashna, Muneef, and Salman Al-Shammeri, Abdullah Al-Qanoon, and Ahmed Al-Malki.
The majority of the field will drive Toyota and Nissan four-wheel-drive vehicles in the T1 category, but the T2, T3, and T4 sections are also well supported. Khaled Al-Shammeri, Raed Al-Shammeri, and Majed Al-Thunayyan are just three of the 10 drivers taking part in the T2 section for series production cross-country vehicles.
Abdullah Al-Shegawi, Mishal Al-Obaidan, and Saad Al-Abaad will battle for honors in the T3 section, while Shaker and Khalil Al-Tuwaijri head the T3 category in their Can-Am Mavericks.
Series regular Ibrahim Al-Mohanna teams up with Osama Al-Sanad and Raed Abu Theeb to wheel out his Mercedes truck in T5.
Mishal Al-Ghuneim triumphed in the inaugural Sharqiyah Baja and Al Ula-Neom event in 2019 and the KTM rider tops the motorcycle entry. Local rivals include Anas Al-Ruhayani and Mohamed Al-Oraini, while the UAE’s Othman Al-Gefeli, Khalid Al-Falasi, and Abdullah bin Dakhan will be hoping to seal the win.
The event has also attracted a trio of Qatari riders – Sheikh Mohammed Al-Thani, Mohammed Al-Kaabi, and Jamal Al-Qetiti – New Zealand’s Philip Wilson, Italy’s Mauro Torrini, and Bahrain’s Abdulaziz Al-Khalifa.
Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi has been the most successful quad rider in recent events in Saudi Arabia and the Yamaha Raptor rider will be hoping to repeat his 2019 win at the Sharqiyah Baja. The six-time winner of the quad category at the Hail International Rally faces challenges from the likes of last year’s Hail International winner Riyadh Al-Shammeri and Sultan Al-Masoud. Qatar’s Abdulaziz Al-Abdullah has also entered a Husqvarna in the quad section.
The Sharqiyah International Baja is running under the supervision of H.R.H. Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, SAMF President and Chairman of the Organising Committee, and has attracted support from official partner Abdul Latif Jameel Toyota and diamond sponsors MBC Group and Al-Arabiya outdoor advertising.
Modon, the Saudi Authority for Industrial Cities and Technology Zones, is also providing logistical support.
Today (Wednesday), competitors pass their mandatory administration and scrutineering checks before the pre-event press conference and the ceremonial start takes center stage at Modon Lake Park in Dammam Industrial City from 16.00hrs onwards.
Timed action gets underway with a timed 10km super special stage from 15.03hrs on Thursday.