Dubai: Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the United Arab Emirates (ATCUAE), has announced details of the new 2017 Gulf Challenge, initially a five-round off-road rally series that promises a golden future for rallying in the Gulf region.
The announcement was made at a press conference, held at the headquarters of the ATCUAE in Dubai last Thursday.
A brief outline of the Gulf Challenge were released in Dubai last October, but further details and the first ever calendar of events have now been finalised. Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah Bakhashab will promote the new series in conjunction with the federations of the various GCC countries involved in the project.
“The Gulf Challenge is our first step of investment in our promising GCC talent in the field of motor sport,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of ATCUAE and Emirates Motor Sports Federation (EMSF). “The new championship will enable us to develop those talents and sustain motor sport in the Gulf region.
“The GCC countries have a proven track record in motor sport and they possess qualified infrastructure to organise and create world class events. We have the Formula One, the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies and the FIM Cross-Country Rally World Championship.
“The Gulf Challenge will be an important regional addition. It will allow us to invest in many factors, including the fact that competitors will gather in the region to participate in several events in close proximity to reduce costs. This will attract participants from all around the world. All those concerned in motor sport, including media, sponsors and manufacturers, will be present in the region, so it will be a great opportunity to develop many aspects of motor sport.”
With the recent decline in numbers attending certain events in regional motor sport, there was a need for a fresh approach to secure a bright future for rallying in one of the most popular areas for the sport.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Qatar have seen growth in cross-country type events in recent years and the national federations of each of those countries have joined forces with like-minded clubs in Bahrain and Oman to create the new series.
The Gulf Challenge was the brainchild of Ben Sulayem, who has the full backing and support of Prince Sultan Bin Bandar Al Faisal, President of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation, QMMF President Abdulrahman Al Mannai, Oman Automobile Association President Jamal Altai, Bahrain Motor Federation President Sheikh Abdullah bin Essa Al Khalifa and Sheikh Ali Al Fawaz Al Sabah, Chairman of the Board of Basel Al Sabah Motor Sports Club.
Following on from the success of the UAE Baja Championship, which is now in its third year and regularly attracts around 100 entries, the Gulf Challenge has been devised to be open for various car, motorcycle and quad classes. Separate championships will be run for each discipline.
With the exception of the introduction of Formula One and MotoGP races to the region, this is the largest motor sporting development in the Gulf since the creation of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship in 1984.
The Gulf Challenge has been devised with costs in mind for younger competitors, but it will still provide a superb feeder system for regional competitors wanting to tackle FIA events, both internationally and in the region.
Abdullah Bakhashab is relishing this new addition to the regional motor sporting calendar.
“I take this opportunity to thank Mohammed Ben Sulayem, who has worked so hard to get all the federations together to make this new dream come true,” said Bakhashab. “I am really honoured and thankful to the presidents of the Gulf ASNs for their trust in me and for appointing me as the promoter and head of the Steering Committee for this challenge. I will dedicate time, effort and my office resources to make it a success.
“We, in the Steering Committee, met a few times and worked to finalise the calendar and the regulations, so that it will suit our region and cars that are both homologated by the FIA and also for those that are not homologated by the creation of two new groups (T1L and T2L).
“I hope that we will have a successful first year and hope that this challenge will attract sponsors next year and we will have Bahrain on board soon.”
Cars running in the FIA T1, T2 and T3 categories will be eligible and two local categories will be developed for T1L (modified cars) and T2L (standard cars that are not FIA homologated but comply with T2 regulations). There will also be a couple of Buggy categories (B1 and B2).
Motorcycles will compete for the overall championship and there will be classes for 450, Over 450, Masters, Marathon and Quads.
A committee will be headed by Bakhashab along with one representative from each of the GCC countries, although each round will be hosted and managed by its own federation. Time keeping, marketing and the collective management of each event will be handled by the six founding authorities and local technical and medical officers will be appointed.
2017 Gulf Challenge provisional calendar
September 7/8: Oman
October 5/6: UAE
October 26/27: Kuwait
November 9/10: Saudi Arabia
December 7/8: Qatar.
*Bahrain will enter in year 2 or 3