• Dakar champions Al-Attiyah, Coma and Sonik top car, motorcycle and quad classes
• 11 FIA Priority drivers in car section; KTM and Honda set for motorcycle showdown
• Competitors from 27 countries to face daunting route through Qatar deserts
A provisional record entry of cars, motorcycles and quads will tackle next week’s Sealine Cross-Country Rally, the third round of the 2015 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies and round two of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship. The event starts on Monday, April 20 and finishes on Friday, April 24 and has attracted entrants from 27 countries.
Subject to FIA approval, 43 cars (including 11 FIA Priority drivers) will join 26 motorcycles and five quads to battle for honours over five daunting selective sections through the Qatar desert. Each category has attracted the cream of the world’s cross-country rallying competitors and the defending Dakar champion from each of the three categories will be at the Losail start next Monday morning.
Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah is the defending champion in the car category and won the Dakar for the second time this year at the wheel of a Mini All4 Racing. He is one of the favourites in the car category, while five-time Dakar winner and eight-time Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge champion, Marc Coma, leads a strong motorcycle line-up on his works KTM 450 Rally Replica.
Poland’s Rafal Sonik won the quad category on the Dakar this year and faces a tough challenge from Mohammed Abu Issa, Qatar’s defending Sealine champion and one of the pre-race favourites.
“We are delighted to not only see the world’s leading cross-country competitors, but new drivers and riders from many other countries coming to Qatar for the first time to compete in our flagship Sealine event,” said Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah, president of the organising Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) and FIA vice-president MENA.
Drivers from the X-raid team and Overdrive Racing top the provisional starters in the car category, with the Russian defending FIA World Cup champion Vladimir Vasilyev leading the way in his Mini All4 Racing.
Five Minis and three Toyota Hiluxes grace the top of the seeding list, while Qatar will be provisionally represented by Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, Faisal Al-Attiya, Sheikh Hamed bin Eid Al-Thani, Mohammed Al-Mannai, Jaralla Jahman, Jamal Fakhroo, Abdullah Al-Baker, Khalid Al-Mohannadi and Abdullah Al-Rabban.
There is also a strong Saudi and Emirati presence on the entry list, with Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Ali Al-Ketbi leading the way for their respective nations.
While the battle between the four factory Red Bull KTMs and a trio of Honda CRF 450s entered by Team HRC is sure to dominate the motorcycle category, there is a strong presence of Portuguese riders on the entry list. GCC hopes rest with Emirati Mohammed Al-Balooshi on his works-specification KTM 450 Rally Replica and the Kuwaiti rider Ibrahim Yisr Al-Rubayan on a KTM entered in the over 450cc class.
Sonik and Abu Issa are sure to the favourites among the five quad riders on their Honda TRXs, although Paraguay’s Nelson Augusto Sanabria (Yamaha Raptor), Russia’s Alexsandr Maksimov (Can-Am Renegade) and Poland’s Kamil Wisniewski (Yamaha Raptor) will have other ideas.
Competitors and officials will start to arrive in Doha at the end of this week to prepare for scrutineering checks and pre-race administration formalities. These will be held at the Losail international circuit on Saturday and Sunday before the event gets underway on Monday morning.