Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, the top-seeded T1 driver in his Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 2008 Dakar. Image Credit: Organisers

Abu Dhabi: The inaugural Abu Dhabi Baja gets under way on Friday, with drivers and riders urged to savour their appearance on one of the best stages in the world for off road rallying.

Taking place under the patronage of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council and organised by the Emirates Motorsport Club (EMC), the 280km two-day event is the fifth of six rounds in the 2019 UAE Baja Championship and gives an extra dimension to the new series.

Sweeping across the dunes and sabkha plains of the Rub Al Khali, the Abu Dhabi Baja becomes the flagship event, providing competitors with a greater test, in a championship otherwise featuring one-day rallies.

“We launched the championship this year to help secure the future of rallying in the UAE through events which are more affordable and open to a wide range of competitors from entry level upwards,” said Shaikh Abdullah Al Qasimi, Founder and President of the EMC.

“The Abu Dhabi Baja is the next step up for drivers and riders. The route is both challenging and fair, running through some of the most dramatic desert terrain on earth. There is no better place in the world for off-road rallying. We want everyone to enjoy it.”

The event has attracted a line-up of 44 drivers and riders competing in T1, T2, Group S and UTV auto classes, as well as Motos 450, 250 and quad categories.

Top seed in the T1 Autos category is the UAE’s Shaikh Khalid Al Qassimi accompanied by British co-driver Chris Patterson in the Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 2008 Dakar. The car has taken Al Qassimi to wins in three of the previous four previous rounds.

Emirati KTM rider Mohammad Al Baloushi, No. 1 seed and championship leader in the Motos 450 category, can afford no mistakes in the big bikes title race. Only 11 points separate him from the chasing trio of KTM riders Dave McBride and Kuwaiti Mohammad Jaffar, and Dubai-based South African Aaron Mare, on a Honda.