Dubai: The Dubai International Rally — like most motorsport events — is traditionally dominated by men, but two young Turkish women plan to steal at least some of the limelight during the 33rd edition of the event over the UAE National Day weekend.
Burcu Cetinkaya and her co-driver, Cicek Guney, have arrived in the Emirates for the first time at the start of what they hope will be an adventure leading to success in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, and on the world stage.
Cetinkaya is a five-time Turkish ladies' rally champion who has made a pretty good job of outpacing male drivers since taking up the sport five-and-a-half years ago.
No slouch herself, Guney is the nine-times Turkish snowboard champion and a member of her country's National Snowboard Team, who has twice competed in the Universiade, the Olympics for university athletes.
As a team, following the last night's ceremonial start, they will have no fears as they tackle the Dubai International Rally over 12 stages taking place today and tomorrow.
Love for nature
"I grew up with cars," Cetinkaya said. "I love nature and I love teamwork. So seeing that rallying had it all, after visiting my first rally when I was 12, I made up my mind to be a rally driver.
"But to start was not so easy, so finally I sold my road car and started rallying with the money I got from that. And luckily now I have sponsors, so finally we can continue to rally and set higher goals."
Her results — which include 12th overall and best Turkish driver in the 2010 WRC Rally of Turkey 2010 and seventh overall in last year's IRC Scotland Rally, when she became the first lady driver to score points in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge — suggest she can go a long way.
She was tempted to enter the Dubai International Rally because: "I really love the east. I want to follow the Middle East Championship in 2012 and this is the start. I don't know much about Dubai but I can see it is a very beautiful and clean place. It feels like I am in space. I'm very excited, we want to push really hard."
Co-driver Guney said: "I was always, and still am, fond of adrenalin. I knew Burcu from snowboarding and we decided to race together in rallying."
Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah is the overwhelming favourite to win the event for the seventh time and also secure his seventh driver's crown in the FIA Middle East Championship.
Should he go out of the rally or finish lower than seventh, the UAE's Shaikh Abdullah Al Qasimi or Rashid Al Ketbi could snatch the title with victory in Dubai.
Among those also aiming for a podium place are the UAE's Shaikh Suhail Al Maktoum, winner of the event in 1990, veteran UAE-based Lebanese driver Michel Saleh and Oman's Hamed Al Wahaibi.
For those keen to follow the action, today's first leg special stages are in the Malaiha and Shawka areas and are easily located from the Sharjah-Kalba Road. The special stages in tomorrow's leg two are in the Al Dhaid area.
The survivors will reach the finish on Emaar Boulevard, Old Town Dubai, at 4.30pm tomorrow.