DOHA (Qatar): Qatar’s Sealine Cross-Country Rally, the next round of both the FIA and FIM Cross-Country Rally World Cups, gets underway from the Corniche in Doha on Monday afternoon from 18.00hrs.

Ahead of a provisional 38 cars, 15 bikes and eight quads lie a daunting 1,525.11km of desert terrain that will test the stamina of competitors and reliability of machines to the limit. Entrants can expect midday desert temperatures in southern Qatar to be as high as the low forties over the course of the four days of competitive action.

Twice Dakar Rally winner Jean-Louis Schlesser arrives in Doha with a slender lead in the 2013 World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies. The Frenchman finished third in Italy and second in Abu Dhabi and now leads the series after two rounds.

Polish Mini All4 Racing driver Krzysztof Holowczyc finished second and fifth in the two respective races and is the Frenchman’s closest challenger in the battle for the title. Brazilian Reinaldo Varela, meanwhile, won the opening round in Italy before finishing out of the points in 27th position in the UAE.

“It promises to be a good close fight between our team and Jean-Louis, but there are several other very fast drivers in Qatar this week and Nasser (Al-Attiyah) has a superb record on his home event,” said Holowcycz. “The goal is obviously to score points for the championship.”

Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah will start as the clear favourite to win the event outright in his powerful, yet under-developed Desert Buggy. Along with Spaniard Carlos Sainz in a second car, Al-Attiyah was a revelation on this year’s Dakar Rally and the two Buggies set several fastest times before succumbing to the rigours of South American terrain.

Al-Attiyah is keen to improve on that showing next January and an entry in the Sealine event is, not only a welcome break from his WRC commitments, but also a chance for the team to improve the Buggy in high temperatures and over both rocky and sandy terrain.

“It feels great to be here in my home country racing again,” said Al-Attiyah, who also won the Qatar International Rally for the 10th time in January. “I have a hectic schedule and there is not a moment to lose in terms of testing and racing our V8 Buggy. We have been out in the desert working on the car. The main thing we have been testing is an update to the chassis that was used at the Dakar. Last year, we had three months to test before the Dakar; now we have a whole year. But I also want to win the Sealine event again.”

Spaniard Marc Coma will be hoping to extend his lead in the FIM Cross-Country Rally World Cup. The KTM 450 motorcycle rider secured a maximum 25 points in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and heads to the start in Doha with an eight-point advantage over Portugal’s Paulo Goncalves on the leading Speedbrain bike.

n the absence of Dubai-based Briton Sam Sunderland (third overall), Norwegian Pal-Anders Ullevalseter will be hoping to reduce the deficit at the top of the points’ table with a podium finish. Poland’s Jakub Przygonski and Chile’s Francisco Lopez also have the goal of a top three finish.

Tomorrow (Monday) sees the conclusion of all the pre-event technical and administration checks, a competitors’ briefing and the official pre-event press conference at Losail international circuit, before the event gets underway with the ceremonial start on Doha Corniche from 18.00hrs on Monday evening.

The first of the four desert legs begins on Tuesday, April 23rd from the Sealine bivouac and action draws to a close on Friday, April 26th.

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