Polish driver Jakub Przygonski and UAE-based South African rider Aaron Mare set the pace on the first leg of the Dubai International Baja powered by Nissan and AW Rostamani today.
Partnered by Belgian co-driver Tom Colsoul in a Mini John Cooper, Przygonski won the opening day’s 174 km special stage by 2mins 6 secs from Russians Vladimir Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov in another Mini in the second round of this year’s FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies.
Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Hamed Seaidan with Russian co-driver Aleksei Kuzmich were third fastest on the day another 3mins 37 secs away in their Toyota Hilux.
With Czechs Martin Prokop and Jan Tomanek fourth fastest in a Ford F-150 Evo, the UAE’s Mansoor Al Helei and Khalid Al Kendi in a Nissan Pick up and Thomas Bell with Patrick McMurren in a Nissan Navara completed the top six. Lying ninth overall in a Polaris RZR, Ukrainian Vadym Prytuliak led the buggies category and was on course for a second successive Dubai Baja title.
In the battle of the bikes, Mare grabbed a 32-seconds first leg lead from Kuwait’s Mohammed Jaffar in the first round of this year’s FIM Bajas World Cup, despite a crash which left him nursing sore wrists.
French rider Benjamin Melot, last year’s runner-up, is another 1 min 37 secs away in third place.
Top-seeded UAE rider Mohammed Al Balooshi was fourth fastest on the day a further 1 mins 2 secs adrift, with his brother Sultan and Italian Manuel Lucchese completing the top six.
Aiming for a successful quads title defence in Dubai, Kuwait’s Fahad Al Musallam made the perfect start on his Yamaha 700 Raptor, opening up a 14mins 49 secs lead over Russian rider Aleksandr Maksimov on another Yamaha.
Przygonski, runner-up in last year’s FIA World Cup series, completed today’s AW Rostamani Arabian Automobiles Special Stage 1 to say: "It was a really fast stage in the dunes. I pushed hard and passed three cars. It was easy terrain, some soft sand and dunes, but no major issues."
Vasilyev, who scored back-to-back victories in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in 2014-15, now needs a big effort if he is to secure a third World Cup rally triumph in the UAE, although Przygonski can afford no mistakes or mishaps.
Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club for the UAE and Emirates Motor Sport Federation, and FIA Vice President for Sport, said: "We’ve had a very interesting first day and no-one can afford to relax because anything can happen in cross country rallying."
Taking place under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, the rally is supported by the Government of Dubai, Dubai Police, Dubai Municipality and the General Authority of Sports, Al Ain Water, Emarat and AssetCo. The Nissan Patrol is the official car for the event.