Pissay, Al Nouri face powerful male rider line-up as Dubai International Baja roars into Al Qudra desert

India’s first lady of bike riding and a professional Kuwaiti wakeboarder aim to use Dubai’s World Cup stage next weekend to show that women can mix it with the men in the tough sport of cross country rallying.

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.

Aishwarya Pissay and Shaikha Al Nouri go into action alongside 53 male riders in the Dubai International Baja powered by Nissan and AW Rostamani, the opening round of this year’s FIM Bajas World Cup for bikes and quads.

Pissay is making only her second international rally appearance after crashing and rupturing her pancreas in her first, last year’s Baja Aragon in Spain.

That painful experience has not, however, dented her passion for the sport and she looks to gain more valuable experience on the Bajas World Cup trail through Dubai’s demanding Al Qudra desert to prepare her for an eventual tilt at the Dakar Rally.

The dedicated off-road racer, who began riding as a teenager in her home town of Bengaluru, is the first Indian woman to have won five national road racing and rally championship titles combined.

She enters a Yamaha WR 450F and says: “I am excited to start my 2019 international racing season at the Dubai International Baja as I will be racing with competitors from across the world. I hope to make a mark in the event in my debut year and I am training really hard to race in the sand dunes.”

Like Pissay, Al Nouri is well accustomed to being outnumbered by men in the sporting arena, as she is the only female member of Kuwait’s wakeboard team, as well as being a qualified instructor.

Entering a KTM Exec 50, she becomes the first GCC woman rider to contest the Dubai International Baja after enrolling recently in the motor cross academy run at Jebel Ali by Mohammed Al Balooshi, the UAE’s reigning FIM Bajas world champion and winner of last year’s event.

“It’s important to have leaders in the sport, and hopefully Shaikha will help to persuade more GCC women to take part,” said Al Balooshi. “She is a good desert rider and taking part in the Dubai Baja puts her on a good learning curve.”

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the ATCUAE and FIA Vice President for Sport, said: “We welcome Aishwarya and Shaikha and hope that their spirit and performances will encourage more young women to take up the sport.”

Two other women competitors look to guide male drivers to success in the event, which is also the second round of the 2019 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas for cars and buggies. British co-driver Chloe Jones accompanies experienced UAE-based contender Mark Powell in a Fast & Speed Buggy while Egyptian Hanah Rabeia partners Ahmed Elshamy in a Rally Raid UK Desert Warrior.

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 on the morning of Friday 8 March to tackle a dramatic 407km special stage which will be run again the following morning before the event finishes back at the Autodrome at 12.30pm the same day.

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