An April 5 2016 file photo of Sam Sunderland performing at the third stage of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Sam Sunderland will be making his first competitive appearance since winning the Dakar Rally bikes category, at the inaugural Dubai International Baja in the Al Qudra Desert this weekend.

The 27-year-old Dubai-based Englishman, who became the first ever British winner of the Dakar Rally in January, is among 38 riders from 12 countries competing.

Poland’s Aron Domzala and co-driver Szymon Gospodarczyk, who lead the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies after last week’s opening round victory in Russia in an Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux, are among 34 crews representing 15 nations who will battle for honours in the cars category.

Forming the second round of this year’s FIA World Cup series for cars and buggies, the Dubai International Baja is also the opening round of the FIM Bajas World Cup for bikes and quads and is a key part of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE’s (ATCUAE) plan to create a bright future for rallying.

Fittingly, it is in his adopted home of Dubai where Sunderland gets his first competitive ride since his Dakar victory, with so much of his development having taken place there.

“It will be great to be racing again as I haven’t done much since Dakar,” said the Red Bull KTM rider. “I’m having a lot of bike time before the Baja and will definitely be ready for it. I don’t race unless I’m fully prepared and I will be.”

From Dubai his attention will switch to the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, April 1-7, which is part of a three-round World Cup swing through the Middle East culminating in Qatar’s Sealine Cross Country Rally, April 16-21.