Bengaluru/Doha, April 16: The fourth round of FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies, which begins in Qatar on Tuesday (April 17) promises to be an exciting with competitors from as many as 18 countries set to challenge for various honours.
Heading the field in the Qatar Cross Country Rally (QCCR) is defending champion and home favourite Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah with his French navigator Mathieu Baumel.
After winning the opening round in Russia, Al Attiyah skipped the next two legs in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and knows that missing them could prove costly at the end of the season if he is to win the FIA World Cup for a fifth time and prevent a new name gracing the FIA World Cup trophy.
Al Attiyah and South African team-mate Giniel de Villiers are both previous Dakar Rally winners and drive a pair of South African-built Toyota Hiluxes entered by Toyota GAZOO Racing South Africa. They are running alongside another three Toyotas being managed by the Belgian preparations company Overdrive Racing. Saudi Arabia's Yasir Seaidan, Dutchman Erik van Loon and Poland's Aron Domzala drive the additional three V8-engined cars.
Although Toyota has the largest team in Qatar on this occasion, X-raid will be hoping to upset the applecart with a single MINI John Cooper Works Rally entered for Poland's Jakub Przygonski. Russian driver Vladimir Vasilyev also drives a G-Energy Team MINI One at the business end of the field.
Surprisingly, perhaps, a Ford currently leads the points' standings: Czech driver Martin Prokop has made a superb transition from the World Rally Championship over the last two seasons and won the recent Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in a Ford F-150 Evo designed and developed by the experienced Miroslav Zapletal, himself a front-running privateer in the FIA World Cup for many years.
There are further T1 entries for Spain's Fernando Alvarez, Oman's Abdullah Al Zubair, Dubai-based Georgy Gomshiasvili, Saudi Arabia's Khalid Al Feraihi and a late Toyota entry for Qatar's Khaled Al Suwaidi, who makes his first appearance in the QCCR with British navigator Marshall Clarke.
Sixty points will again be on offer for the winner of the Losail-based event, which gets underway with a new ceremonial start at the Katara Cultural Village in the outskirts of Doha.
De Villiers won the Dakar Rally back in 2009 and has taken several podium finishes with Toyota since that memorable victory.
This will be the South African's first attempt at the Qatar event in his Toyota GAZOO Racing South Africa Hilux with navigator Robert Howie.
Domzala suffered a costly retirement at the opening round in Russia after rolling his Toyota Hilux and the Pole missed both the Dubai International Baja and the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
Pointless after three rounds, last year's Baja Russia winner will be hoping to kick-start his season in Qatar with fellow countryman Maciej Marton reading the road book.
Saudi Arabia's Yasir began the season strongly with fifth place in Russia and third in Dubai, but a mechanical issue at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge cost him a potential top five finish and valuable championship points.
He currently holds fifth in the Drivers' Championship - four points behind Al Attiyah - and he and Russian co-driver Alexei Kuzmich will be hoping for a podium finish in Qatar.
The experienced Dutchman Van Loon is planning to tackle the Dakar Rally again in 2019 and has entered the Qatar event to begin his preparations for another South American adventure.
He and co-driver Wouter Rosegaar finished sixth in Qatar last year and will be hoping to improve on that result on this occasion.
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