Bengaluru/Doha, February 21: Home hero and Dakar Rally champion Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah is the firm favourite for the Manateq Qatar Cross-Country Rally, the opening round of FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, which gets underway with a spectacular ceremonial flag off at Pearl Qatar's Souq Al Medina on Thursday (February 21).
Drivers and co-drivers from 19 countries will then tackle five punishing selective sections through the Qatar deserts from Friday to Tuesday (February 21-26) on this rally, being organised by the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF).
Last year's event winner Jakub Przygonski is the defending FIA World Cup champion.
The Poland driver Przygonski drives the first of two X-raid MINIs in the event, with Saudi Arabia's Yasir Seaidan driving the second car and hoping to improve on last year's third place.
All eyes on Al Attiyah
Qatar's hopes of victory rest firmly on the shoulders of the three-time Dakar Rally winner Al Attiyah and his French navigator Matthieu Baumel.
Al Attiyah will be chasing a sixth victory in his home round of the FIA World Cup in the first of three Toyota Hiluxes entered by Overdrive Racing.
Lone female entry
Camelia Liparoti is the only female on the entry list and drives a rented Yamaha YZX 1000R in the T3 section.
A veteran of several Dakar rallies on a quad, the Yamaha Europe employee actually trained in the Sealine area of Qatar before January's Dakar event and really enjoyed the terrain.
Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke and Saudi Arabia's Yazeed Al Rajhi drive the second and third V8-engined cars that were designed in South Africa and are run by the Belgium-based team.
Ten Brinke's Belgian navigator Tom Colsoul won the event last season with Przygonski.
Three national events
There will also be a series of three national events running in conjunction with the FIA event.
National competitors will take part on the first, third and fifth days of the event with a full opening day and two partial days counting as rounds four, five and six of the Qatar National Baja Championship.