VILLIERS-LE-BOUILLET (BELGIUM) – Overdrive Racing will field an impressive four-car line-up of Toyota Hiluxes at this weekend’s inaugural Dubai International Baja, the second round of the 2017 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies. The event takes place on March 9-11.
The first of three Middle Eastern events in the gruelling off-road calendar has attracted many of Overdrive Racing’s leading rivals and the Belgian team’s hopes of winning the new event rest on the shoulders of Qatar’s defending series champion, Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, recent Baja Russia winner Aron Domzala, Dutchman Erik Van Loon and Frenchman Ronan Chabot.
Overdrive Racing dominated last year’s FIA World Cup: Al-Attiyah and his regular French navigator Matthieu Baumel claimed the title with an event to spare after taking a staggering six successive outright victories in Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Spain, Italy, Poland and Morocco. After missing out on Dakar success following an early accident, the Qatari returns to action fresh and determined to continue his remarkable run of form with the Toyota in the FIA World Cup.
“This is a new event in the championship and my first cross-country rally of the season since the Dakar,” said Al-Attiyah. “I have a good record on the Middle East events and always feel at home in the desert. The shorter Baja format means we will have to avoid any mistakes. But pushing for the win is the obvious goal.”
Domzala and his fellow Polish navigator Szymon Gospodarczyk are the early leaders of the championship after claiming a stunning victory for Overdrive Racing in the snowy wastelands of the Republic of Karelia in north-western Russia last Sunday. Domzala finished 11th overall in last year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and will find the heat and dust of the Al-Qudra Desert a far cry from the sub-zero temperatures and icy stage surfaces he faced last week.
The Dutch duo of Erik Van Loon and Wouter Rosegaar finished 14th overall in this year’s Dakar Rally with Overdrive Racing after setting the sixth quickest time on the final stage. Van Loon, who runs an expanding meat packing company in his native Holland, has been a regular on rounds of the FIA World Cup for several seasons. He finished second overall at the 2015 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and fourth at the Dakar the same year, the result marking a best ever finish for a Dutchman in the history of the event.
The fourth Toyota is crewed by the French pairing of Ronan Chabot and Gilles Pillot. The crew were sidelined from this year’s Dakar Rally by engine issues and are keen to get their FIA World Cup campaign off to a points-scoring start in the United Arab Emirates.
“We started the championship last weekend with a victory and everyone is happy with that,” said Overdrive Racing’s CEO Jean-Marc Fortin. “Aron (Domzala) is a good hope for the future. He is a young, talented driver. He is a new diamond that we need to polish, but he has made the perfect start.
“Nasser is back in the game after his small Dakar. We are starting another campaign with him and we hope to deliver a second successive world title. Erik (Van Loon) has announced a small programme of four rallies in Dubai, Qatar, Kazakhstan and Spain and may announce more rallies later on. He is a strong driver and ideally suited to doing well in the FIA World Cup. Ronan (Chabot) retired on Dakar and we need to get him back in the game, with kilometres under his belt for his sponsor. It’s been a rush to get all the cars ready after they arrived back into Europe from the Dakar, but everyone is looking forward to a few challenging weeks ahead.”
The Dubai International Baja was created by the Automobile and Touring Club of the United Arab Emirates (ATCUAE) out of the ashes of the Dubai International Rally, which had been the traditional final round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship since 1984.
The revised event ran in a one-day candidate format last December and was observed by FIA officials for potential inclusion in the 2017 FIA World Cup. Race officials also run the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and expanded the format of the Baja when it was accepted into the championship calendar.
Based at the Bab Al-Shams Arena, the competitive action gets underway with two selective sections on Friday, March 10 and a single stage through the Al-Qudra section of the Arabian Desert on Saturday, March 11.
Overdrive Racing starters
301. Aron Domzala (POL)/Szymon Gospodarczyk (POL) Toyota Hilux Overdrive
302. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive
306. Erik Van Loon (NED)/Wouter Rosegaar (NED) Toyota Hilux Overdrive
307. Ronan Chabot (FRA)/Gilles Pillot (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive