Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel claimed a first victory in their second event with a Prodrive Hunter run under the Nasser Racing banner. The Qatari led the Dubai International Baja from start-to-finish, setting the quickest times on the Prologue and the first of two desert stages on his way to a winning margin of 5min 13.9sec.
Al-Attiyah tackled the first four rounds of the season as a member of Toyota Gazoo Racing and had sealed the overall title before the last round in Portugal, where he finished fifth on his debut with the Prodrive Hunter. A second victory in Dubai, to add to his success with Toyota in 2017, came after victories this year in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Spain and a second place in Italy.
Al-Attiyah said: “The first win for us with the Prodrive Hunter, so it’s quite good just before Dakar. The most important was to drive in the dunes and to understand a little bit the set-up of the car and to be ready for Dakar. We enjoy it a lot and I think it will be difficult for everybody to beat us in Dakar!”
Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk finished second overall and that was sufficient to confirm similar finishing positions in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas Drivers’ and Co-Drivers’ Championships. Al-Rajhi won the last stage and wrapped up his part-time campaign in the FIA World Cup after a victory in Italy and a second place in Portugal.
Juan Cruz Yacopini and Daniel Oliveras crewed the second of four Overdrive Racing Toyota Hiluxes and were fourth on the last stage. That moved the Argentine and the Spaniard into third overall in the general classification.
João Ferreira headed to the final round with an outside chance of snatching second place with co-driver Filipe Palmeiro in the Drivers’ and Co-drivers’ Championships. The Portuguese had won the recent Baja Portalegre 500 and switched to a South Racing Can-Am Maverick for the UAE event. He narrowly missed out to Al-Rajhi on the runner-up spot but had the consolation of finishing fourth overall in Dubai, third in the Drivers’ Championship and also cruising to T4 class success.
The French duo of Ronan Chabot and Gilles Pillot entered the event as a test session for the Dakar Rally in January and reached the finish in sixth place in the third of the Overdrive Racing Toyotas.
Toyota Gazoo Racing announced a couple of days before the start that Seth Quintero and Dennis Zenz would join the team for the 2024 Dakar Rally and the recently-crowned W2RC T3 champions held second overall at the start of the final stage. But a broken rear differential meant that they failed to finish the last section and slipped down the rankings to 16th as a result of hefty time penalties.
Denis Krotov and Konstantin Zhiltsov held fourth overall at the start of the final day but retired the fifth of the Overdrive Racing Toyotas with technical issues.
Thirty-two vehicles made the final start list, with 18 registered for the FIA World Cup and 14 for the FIA Middle East Cup. There were eight T1 and T1+ machines, three in T2, 11 in T3 and 10 in T4.
Local driver Aliyyah Koloc teamed up with South African co-driver Riann Greyling to finish 10th overall in a Buggyra ZM Racing-run Red-Lined Revo T1+ and claim maximum points in the FIA Middle East Cup for Cross-Country Bajas.
Points for third place in the FIA Middle East Cup were sufficient for Khalid Al-Feraihi to clinch the Drivers’ Championship and his French co-driver Sébastien Delaunay pipped Dmytro Tsyro to the Co-drivers’ title. Saudi Arabia’s Ibrahim Al-Muhanna took Middle East Baja Cup T2 honours in a Nissan Patrol.
Otavio Sousa Leite wins in T3 and claims title
Brazilian driver Otavio Sousa Leite confirmed the T3 Championship title with victory in the category and fifth overall with co-driver João Ferreira in a South Racing Can-Am Maverick X3. His closest rival for the title was Meshari Al-Thefiri but the Kuwaiti stopped with technical issues in the last third of the final stage.
Sousa Leite said: “I came into the event with low expectations of becoming the champion. Turns out, all the bad luck throughout the year turned in our favour in this last race. We won yesterday’s stage and today my dad secured another victory. Now we are World Champions!”
Sousa Leite’s father Cristiano de Sousa Batista had already wrapped up the T4 title before the previous round in Portugal and he and Portuguese co-driver Fausto Moto shadowed his son to the finish to confirm second in T3 and seventh overall on this occasion in a second South Racing Can-Am.
Saudi Arabian driver Dania Akeel teamed up with German co-driver Taye Perry and rounded off the T3 podium in a South Racing-built Can-Am Maverick X3 run by Dubai-based R-X Sport on this occasion. Akeel’s result confirmed third in the T3 Drivers’ Championship.
Paraguay’s Andrea Lafarja Bittar overcame 30 minutes of time penalties for missing waypoints to finish fourth on her first appearance with Perú’s Hector Garcia Chavez in a South Racing Can-Am. Czech racer Josef Machacek was a distant fifth in a Buggyra ZM Racing Can-Am DV21.
Saudi Arabia’s Hamad Al-Harbi clinched the FIA Middle East Cup’s T3 title, despite both he and rival Yasir Seaidan retiring from the event.
João Ferreira takes comfortable victory in T4
João Ferreira romped to a comfortable victory in the T4 class and guided his South Racing Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR to a stunning fourth place in the overall rankings with co-driver Filipe Palmeiro.
The Portuguese won the Prologue and both stages through the Al-Qudra Desert and built up a winning margin of 36min 54.1sec over the Quaddy Racing Yamaha YXZ 1000R SS duo of Amerigo Ventura and Mirko Brun.
The rate of attrition was high in the demanding dunes and local driver Arif Al-Zarouni finished a distant third in the second of the Quaddy Racing Yamahas, despite incurring a 30-minute time penalty for missing waypoints on the opening stage.
Italian Stefano Marrini was awarded a 10-minute time penalty for changing a wheel in a neutralisation zone but managed to reach the finish in fourth.
Kuwait’s Salem Al-Dhafeeri (Can-Am) stayed well ahead of Saudi Arabian rival Maha Al-Hameli (Can-Am) to seal the FIA Middle East Cup’s T4 title with fifth overall and 33 points. Qatar’s Ahmed Al-Kuwari had a slim chance of catching the Kuwaiti until he stopped in the first desert stage when the Quaddy Racing Yamaha shed all the oil from its gearbox.
Ricardo Ramilo entered the event for pre-Dakar training but retired after breaking his Can-Am’s drive belt on the first desert stage. “This rally is a university for learning the dunes,” said the Spaniard.
2023 Dubai International Baja – final result (top 15):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (AND) Prodrive Hunter 5hr 22min 52.3sec
2. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 5hr 28min 06.2sec
3. Juan Cruz Yacopini (ARG)/Dani Oliveras (ESP) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 5hr 48min 35.9sec
4. João Ferreira (PRT)/Filipe Palmeiro (PRT) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR (T4) 5hr 48min 48.1sec
5. Otavio Sousa (BRA)/João Ferreira (PRT) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 6hr 04min 05.5sec
6. Ronan Chabot (FRA)/Gilles Pillot (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 6hr 07min 44.6sec
7. Cristiano De Sousa Batista (BRA)/Fausto Mota (PRT) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 6hr 09min 34.9sec
8. Amerigo Ventura (ITA)/Mirko Brun (ITA) Yamaha YXZ 1000 R SS (T4) 6hr 25min 42.2sec
9. Dania Akeel (SAU)/Taye Perry (DEU) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 6hr 32min 50.3sec
10. Aliyyah Koloc (ARE)/Riann Greyling (ZAF) Red-Lined Revo T1+ 6hr 58min 19.4sec*
11. Atif Al-Zarouni (ARE)/Patrick McMurren (ARE) Yamaha YXZ 1000 R SS (T4) 7hr 06min 46.9sec*
12. Andrea Lafarja Bittar (PRY)/Hector Garcia Chavez (PER) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 7hr 18min 52.8sec
13. Stefano Marrini (ITA)/Silvio Valentini (ITA) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR (T4) 7hr 20min 50.9sec
14. Khalid Al-Feraihi (SAU)/Sébastian Delaunay (FRA) Nissan Pick-Up (T1) 7hr 30min 27.8sec*
15. Salem Al-Dhafeeri (KWT)/Hassan Ali Obaid (ARE) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR (T4) 7hr 59min 28.0sec*
T1+ unless stated
*denotes registered for the FIA Middle East Cup