Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi taking a commanding lead in his Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 2008 Dakar. Image Credit: Organisers

Abu Dhabi: The UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi powered his way into a commanding lead on the opening leg of the inaugural Abu Dhabi Baja on Friday as the new event presented a demanding test for drivers and riders among the dunes of the Rub Al Khali.

Partnered by British co-driver Chris Patterson in the Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 2008 Dakar, Al Qassimi, top seed in the T1 Autos category, won the 97km Arada Special Stage 1 by 21 mins, 57 secs from Emirati Nooh Bu Hamaid in a Nissan Patrol.

On a day when a succession of cars became trapped in treacherous soft sand, Mansoor Parol and co-driver Imran Mahmood were third quickest in a Toyota Prado ahead of Argentinian driver Ariel Jaton in the all-electric ACCIONA 100% EcoPowered.

Taking place under the patronage of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council and organised by the Emirates Motorsport Club (EMC), the fifth round of the 2019 UAE Baja Championship sent 44 competitors into action from the rally base at the renowned Moreeb Dune near the Liwa oasis.

Al Qassimi, who leads the T1 title race after winning three of the previous rounds, said at the end of the leg: “It was a difficult stage because I was opening the road.

“But it was good learning experience because you have to take your time in the dunes. Because of the time of day the light makes it hard to see over the crests. But we put in a good average speed and it was good training.”

Dubai-based South African rider Aaron Mare was promoted to overall Motos and 450 category leader after fellow countryman Micheal Docherty picked up 20 minutes in time penalties for missing two passage controls and fell from contention.

The 280km event reaches its conclusion on Saturday with the 105km Moreeb Special Stage 2 getting under way at 8am.