Top World Cup stars don’t worry Al Helei who relishes challenge of Dubai International Baja

The mighty array of World Cup rally machinery assembling in Dubai this week does not intimidate Emirati driver Mansour Al Helei as he prepares for action in the impressive locally-built Nissan Pick up he shares with his father.

Twelve months ago, despite limited time for preparation, Al Helei took the car to a fine 5th place in the Dubai International Baja powered by Nissan and AW Rostamani on his first drive in a powerful T1 vehicle.

He was handed the keys to the Nissan by his father, Yahya, whose deal with his son was that he returned it in one piece at the end of the event to allow him to drive it two weeks later in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

“It’s the same story this time, and we’re up against the big manufacturers’ team whose cars are built to be abused,” said Mansour, partnered again by Emirati co-driver Khalid Al Kendi in the second round of the 2019 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas for cars and buggies.

“I have to drive more carefully and make sure we don’t break it, so that puts us at a disadvantage. But I have to just balance it out and I won’t worry about all the big teams’ cars that come here – the more the better.”

Al Helei finds himself in a powerful unrelenting cars line up headed by fellow UAE-driver and top seed Khalid Al Qassimi with French co-driver Xavier Panseri in an Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR.

Following Al Qassimi away from the 6pm ceremonial start at Dubai Autodrome on Thursday are a string of foreign stars, including the top three from last year’s World Cup series, Poland’s defending world champion and winner in Dubai last year, Jakub Przygonski, Czech driver Martin Prokop and Russia’s Vladimir Vasilyev.

World-class opposition scares Mansour no more than it worries his father, who spent a relatively modest AED1 million 0069n 2014 to turn his trusty Nissan Pick up from a T2 production model to a T1 prototype capable of competing with the best cross country rally cars in the world. By comparison, one of the factory team super cars can cost above 800,000 Euros to prepare for an event,

On its first T1 outing just eight seconds separated the Nissan from a podium place in the Desert Challenge while 12 months later it gave Al Helei senior a stunning first leg victory.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organises, and FIA Vice President for Sport, said: “It’s always satisfying to see our local competitors taking on the best in the world, and this event was designed to give them that opportunity for many years to come.”

Taking place under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, the Dubai International Baja powered by Nissan and AW Rostamani is based at Dubai Autodrome. The event is supported by the Government of Dubai, Dubai Police, Dubai Municipality, the General Authority of Sports, Dubai Customs, Al Ain Water and Emarat petrol.

Making a welcome return to action in Dubai is Abdullah Al Qassimi, brother of top-seeded Khalid and one of the UAE’s most experienced rally drivers, who faces a new challenge alongside long time co-driver Steve Lancaster in a Toyota Hilux.

“At the moment I’m just doing the Dubai Baja this year, but you never know,” said the former UAE rally champion. “I’m not really used to doing rallies by navigation without tracks, but I’m looking forward to it.

Fellow Emirati Mohammed Al Balooshi starts this year’s FIM Bajas World Cup for bikes and quads targeting another double triumph but facing a difficult season opener.

After eight years riding a KTM, the reigning world and Dubai Baja champion has switched to a Kawasaki and says: “There are times when you have to try something new and I’ve been working hard to get the bike ready.

“It’s a big task but if I didn’t think I could win again I wouldn’t start. Every time I race I give 100 per cent. You can’t do better than that.”

The Dubai International Baja powered by Nissan and AW Rostamani will be launched by a ceremonial start at Dubai Autodrome on March 7.

Competitors head out from Dubai Autodrome into the Al Qudra desert tomorrow (Friday) morning to tackle the 201.6lkm AW Rostamani Arabian Automobiles special stage to be followed on Saturday morning by the 204.93km Nissan stage before returning to the Autodrome at 12.30pm the same day, and ceremonial finish will take place at 5pm.

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