Muscat: Describing the inaugural Gulf Challenge as a platform that will help in developing the motorsport talents in the region, the Oman Automobile Association (OAA) has officially launched the all new off-road rally series that will kick off with the Oman leg later this year.
During a gala ceremony organised at the OAA headquarters on Saturday evening, the governing of the Sultanate’s motorsport also finalised the dates of the Oman leg.
Speaking on the occasion, OAA vice-chairman Jamal Al Tai revealed the details of the 2017 Gulf Challenge, which will initially be a five-round off-road rally series that promises a golden future for rallying in the Gulf region.
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 co-opeation with the federations of the various GCC countries involved in the project.
Jamal Al Tai said: “We are very honoured to be a part of this regional motorsport event, it marks the beginning of a new era in the field of promoting motorsports within the Gulf Cooperation Council.”
“The series will kick with Oman round on September 7 and 8 this year,” he added.
“We have promising talents within the GCC countries, and our role is to develop these talents and to provide for them a platform to develop their potentials for the future.”
“The Gulf Challenge is an opportunity to cooperate with our neighbouring GCC countries towards promoting motorsports within the region, establish a platform for success for the talented and to provide opportunities for the participants to get exposed to international competitions and tournaments in order to compete on the international stage,” Al Tai added.
With the recent decline in numbers attending certain events in regional motorsport , 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.
Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE have seen growth in cross-country events in recent years and the national federations of each of those countries have joined forces with like-minded clubs in Oman and Bahrain to create the new series.
The Gulf Challenge is founded by Oman Automobile Association President Brigadier Salim Al Maskari, Prince Sultan bin Bandar Al Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation, Sheikh Abdullah bin Essa Al Khalifa of Bahrain Motor Federation President, Sheikh Ali Al Fawaz Al Sabah, Chairman of the Board of Basel Al Sabah Motor Sports Club, Mohammed ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the United Arab Emirates, and QMMF chief Abdulrahman Al Mannai.
According to a statement issued by the promoters, 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 Oman Automobile Association, who has supported the idea since the start,” 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.
The championship prize giving will be determined by a draw each year to select the host venue except the first year Qatar will host this event.
2017 Gulf Challenge schedule:
Sept 7-8: Oman
Oct 5-6: UAE
Oct 26-27: Kuwait
Nov 9-10: Saudi Arabia
Dec 7-8: Qatar