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Poland’s Aron Domzala to defend FIA World Cup lead Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

Aron Domzala
ABU DHABI: Little known Polish cross-country driver Aron Domzala finds himself firmly in the spotlight at the forthcoming Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge powered by Nissan, which starts with a timed super special stage at the Al-Forsan International Resort on April 1.
The Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux driver began his first ever full campaign for honors in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies in superb style and leads the Drivers’ Championship by 11 points. After claiming victory in February’s Baja Russia across the frozen wastelands of the Republic of Karelia, Domzala and navigator Szymon Gospodarczyk finished a solid sixth overall in the Dubai International Baja, the first of two events being organized by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE) in the space of a month.
Now the Pole faces the formidable task of holding on to that lead over five gruelling days of competition in the desert wilderness of Abu Dhabi against some of the most potent rivals in the sport. Double points are on offer for the longer rounds of this year’s championship as well and that places a greater emphasis on good results here in Abu Dhabi, and in Qatar, Kazakhstan and Morocco later in the season.
The winner of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge will receive 60 points and both Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi will be targeting the top step of the podium. After five days of competition through the dunes of the Rub Al-Khali, the event finishes at the Yas Marina Circuit on April 6.
Al-Attiyah missed the first round in Russia and began the defense of his FIA World Cup crown with victory in the Dubai Baja. He holds second in the championship from a tying Al-Qassimi (Peugeot) and Russian driver Viktor Khoroshavtsev, who is not taking part in Abu Dhabi.
Drivers such as Qatar’s Mohammed Abu Issa (Mini), the experienced Czech Miroslav Zapletal (Hummer) and former FIA World Cup champion, Vladimir Vasilyev (Mini), will also be eyeing podium finishes to keep their title challenges on track.
The FIA T2 Championship is open to drivers of series production cross-country vehicles like the Nissan Patrol, Toyota Land Cruiser and the Isuzu D-Max in near-standard form. Qatar’s Adel Abdulla claimed the 2016 title from Saudi Arabian Yasir Saiedan after an FIA protest was awarded in his favor following last year’s Rally of Morocco.
The pair are locking horns again this season and Saiedan has the early advantage. In the unofficial T2 standings, the Toyota driver holds a 10-point advantage over the Qatari after the two short events. Abu Dhabi-based Lebanese Emil Khneisser (Nissan) finished second in Dubai last month, but is not registered for the FIA series and that has lifted both Saudi Arabia’s Ahmed Al-Malki (Isuzu) and Emirati Mansoor Al-Helai (Toyota) into striking distance.
All four title contenders feature on the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge’s entry list, alongside Khneisser, Kazakh driver Marat Abykayev (Toyota), Oman’s Abdullah Al-Zubair (Nissan) and Saudi Arabia’s Ahmed Al-Shegawi (Toyota).
Entrants from the UAE and other GCC countries benefited from free entry to this year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. Mohammed Ben Sulayem, rally founder and president of the ATCUAE, confirmed that the move was made after the request of Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al-Nahyan, minister of Culture and Knowledge Development and chairman of the General Authority for Youth and Sports Welfare.
“This is excellent news for the event and the sport in general,” said Ben Sulayem. “Sheikh Nahyan is an avid supporter of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and is keen to continue to attract fresh talent into the sport. We have several regular drivers, like Yayha Al-Helai, who has competed here many times in the past and continues to enjoy his opportunity to take on the world’s best. But his son Mansoor now competes as well and is well positioned to succeed in the T2 category this year.”

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