Defending South African Cross Country champion, Leeroy Poulter, will be competing in the 2017 edition of the Qatar Cross Country Rally from 18-22 April, round 4 of the FIA’s World Cup for Cross Country Rallies. Poulter will be behind the wheel of Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s race-proven Toyota Hilux, and will have German navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz beside him for the race.
Von Zitzewitz usually does duty with Poulter’s teammate Giniel de Villiers, but team principal Glyn Hall decided to mix things up for Qatar: “Leeroy has only ever had one navigator in cross-country racing – Rob Howie – so we thought it’d be good for him to gain the experience of sharing a cockpit with someone else. Dirk also has a mass of experience, and this can be very valuable in Qatar, where navigation is tricky at best.”
Poulter/Von Zitzewitz will be joining a number of other Toyota Hilux crews, including Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, who is the defending champion in the World Cup. They will be squaring off against an army of MINI crews, including the former Toyota crew of Yazeed Al-Rahji and navigator Timo Gotschalk. Finnish rally star Miko Hirvonen will also be campaigning a MINI, while the United Arab Emirates’ Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi will be fielding his ex-works Peugeot DKR.
“It is going to be an interesting race,” said Poulter before departing for the Qatari capital of Doha for the race. “There’s more than enough competition out there, but unfortunately we’ve had to go back to the smaller air restrictor for this race.”
The Toyota Hilux crews will have to run their race vehicles with 36 mm air restrictors, in order to comply with the FIA’s regulations for races below 1,000 metres average altitude. Despite the smaller restrictors, however, Hall is upbeat about the race: “Of course we’d like to do well, but racing in Qatar also offers a great opportunity for testing. As such we’ll be running a number of new parts on Leeroy and Dirk’s car, and we hope to learn a lot from this race, in preparation for Dakar 2018.”
The route in Qatar is extremely rough, but also includes large dune sections that can scupper all but the most experienced crews. The race starts with a late-afternoon prologue to determine starting positions on Tuesday, April 18th. Four special stages follow, all run in the area around the capital of Doha, with the race concluding in the capital on Saturday, April 22nd.
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