DOHA, Qatar — The Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) has made several tweaks and improvements to the route and itinerary for the forthcoming Qatar International Rally, which will kick-start regional action in the 2021 FIA Middle East Rally Championship from Jan. 28-30.
Speaking from the Dakar Rally, Clerk of the Course Pedro Almeida confirmed that the event would be more compact and with slightly more competitive distance than the last event that was staged before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019.
“All the stages have been organized in the Al-Khor area, some 40km north of the Lusail Sports Complex, where the rally in based,” said Almeida.
“We will run 11 special stages again, but we ran 203.72 competitive kilometers in 2019 and this has been increased to 208.36km for 2021. There are 130km less of road sections than 2019 and 36.06% of the route is competitive, compared to 28.79% in 2019 and 24.43% in 2018.”
The start ceremony will be held at Katara from 20.15hrs on Thursday evening (Jan. 28), where QMMF officials are also planning to host a brand new opening four-kilometer super special stage on Katara Beach from 21.30hrs
The Eraida (20.13km) and Al-Thakira (20.34km) special stages are already well known to competitors and will be run twice on leg one (Jan. 29).
The Al-Khor special (18.30km) has also been used before and is a highlight of leg two. Both the QMMF (22.02km) and Ras Laffan (21.39km) stages are completely new and also fit into Saturday’s (Jan. 30) itinerary.
They too are repeated in the afternoon and may provide an exciting sting in the tail for entrants on the final day.
The QMMF is hopeful that spectators will take the opportunity to see the action up close and personal at Katara before the meat of the event switches to the northern Qatar deserts over the weekend.
With the recent news that an agreement has been made between Qatar and neighboring Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, transportation of equipment into the State of Qatar should become much easier over time and the QMMF is hopeful that entrants from many of the GCC countries will support the MERC opener.
Potentially boosting the entry, both this year and in the future, is the news that the FIA has permitted homologated T4 production vehicles to tackle gravel rounds of the MERC in Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Cyprus and Kuwait. Eligible vehicles must have an FIA technical passport.
Forty-four of these relatively low-cost vehicles entered the Dakar Rally at the start of January and the relaxing of border restrictions may enable some competitors to take part in the Qatar International Rally after the finish of the Dakar event in Jeddah on Jan. 15.
This year’s rally will be held under the chairmanship of QMMF President Abdulrahman Al-Mannai, senior committee member Abdulrazaq Al-Kuwari and the QMMF’s Executive Director Amro Al-Hamad.
The final date for entry applications has been set for Jan. 13. — SG