The Qatari is the main favourite of the first edition of the Rally Raid in the Asian country, fifth round of the World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.

The organisers at the Automotorsport Federation of the Republic of Kazakhstan have announced a quality field of 25 of the world’s leading drivers for the Central Asian country’s inaugural round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies on May 20-27.

Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah, the two-time winner of the Dakar Rally and the defending FIA World Cup champion, heads a field that includes eight FIA Priority drivers and competitors from 15 nations.

Al Attiyah and his French navigator Matthieu Baumel are in excellent form after winning last month’s Qatar Cross-Country Rally with the Toyota Hilux of Overdrive Racing. The Belgian team features also Poles Aaron Domzala-Maciej Martion and Dutchmen Erik Van Loon-Wouter Rosagaar, both the duos driving a Toyota Hilux. “We are enthusiastic about this new rally, that’s why we have decided to line up our best drivers,” said Jean-Marc Fortin, general director of Overdrive Racing.

Al Attiyah and his teammates face strong competition from a fleet of Mini All4 Racings in the deserts of western Kazakhstan. Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi pushed the Qatari on a couple of stages at the recent Qatar Cross-Country Rally and he joins Poland’s Jakub Przygonski and Qatar’s Mohammed Abu Issa in a trio of German-built X–raid Mini All4 Racings.

Other leading non-Toyota or Mini drivers include the experienced Czech Miroslav Zapletal in his Hummer H3 Evo VII and the Mobilex Racing Team’s Yuriy Sazonov in his own Hummer H3.

All the regular FIA T2 Championship contenders will make the journey to Central Asia to continue a contest in the category for series production cross-country vehicles that has seen Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Seaidan take a commanding championship lead after four rounds.

The Toyota Land Cruiser driver faces the likes of defending champion, Adel Abdulla, the UAE’s Mansour Al Helai and Saudi team-mate Ahmed Al-Malki. Several local drivers add weight to the category, including Marat Abykayev, President of the Automotorsport Federation of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and Kirill Chernenkov. The T3 contest will be fought out between the French duo of Claude Fournier and Patrice Garrouste in a pair of Polaris RR 1000s.

“We are delighted that our inaugural round of the FIA World Cup has attracted the leading competitors in each of the T1 and T2 categories and we can expect some fascinating competition over the six competitive days of the event,” said Marat Abykayev. “I am sure that teams attending the rally for the first time will enjoy the challenge of our beautiful terrain and our stages and this event will be the start of Kazakhstan’s regular slot in the cross-country rallying calendar.”

Rally Kazakhstan starts and finishes in the main square in Aktau City, although it will be based at the Kenderly Sea Resort, around 220km from Aktau, for three nights after the second selective section on May 22.

Sources: The Peninsula , Küs