From rally car races to kitesurfing and endurance cycling over sand dunes, there’s something for every thrill seeker in Qatar.
From rally car racing to cycling in sand dunes and desert trekking, Qatar has plenty to offer for thrill seekers looking to push the limits of human endurance, challenge the mind against the forces of nature, or for those just hoping to see some heart-stopping extreme sports action.
The Qatar International Rally is the second stop in the six-part 2023 FIA Middle East Rally Championship.
This year, local organisers made slight adjustments to the circuit and made the route more compact to improve what they say is already one of the leading rallies in the region.
"[The] terrain is, mostly [...] a mixture of gravel, sand, rocky sections, stones. You never know what you can expect in Qatar," explained Stanley Da Silva, Chief Scrutineer at the Qatar Motor & Motorcycle Federation.
The gruelling three-day event puts the racing drivers, mechanics, and cars through their paces. That’s why the International Automobile Federation (FIA), the governing body for world motorsport, ensures all racing events are held safely and responsibly.
"We do the scrutineering and, we have to inspect and take care that all the cars pass through the required safety checks and [only then] they are approved for racing," Da Silva added.
"The car can come back nice and shiny and it can come back in a few pieces. That’s what you have to deal with," said Raivis Kucers, a Team Mechanic at Sports Racing Technologies (SRT), a professional autosport team which claimed two podiums in Qatar this year.
His job is to scrutinise his cars before they get to the scrutineers. The rest of his team puts on the final touches – placing the stickers, cleaning the cars and carrying out the all-important final safety checks ahead of the race.
"Their main task is to focus that the safety gauges are correct and in good condition, the seats are safe and good and safety belts, fuel tanks, fire extinguishers, the cars are safe to start the rally," explained FIA delegate, Karmo Uusmaa.
"Rallying is not like driving on the normal, public roads that you’re doing 60 km/h. It's sometimes going completely flat out in areas where everything can happen. There can be something which could lead to an accident. And the goal, the idea is that whenever there is something happening, the driver and the co-driver inside the car would walk away without any injuries," he added.
The rally dates back to the 1970s, but SRT's team manager, Arturs Priednieks, says he has seen interest grow over the years.
" [In our] first year we supplied three cars. Last year four cars and this year six cars. So, we are growing here in the region, and I think the Qatar Motorsports Federation is doing a great job to promote the rally and sports in the region. So, for sure it’s growing," he said.
"The Qatar stages, they are quite demanding. They are very rough, so we need to specially prepare cars. They are fast, they are tricky some places. So it’s an interesting rally but drivers must be very careful and also the cars must be prepared quite well," Priednieks added.
And when the dust finally settled, the driver who walked away with his 17th Qatar Rally, and fourth in a row, was none other than Qatar’s own, Nasser Al Attiyah.
An 'amazing spot' for kitesurfing
The stunning waters surrounding Qatar provide ideal conditions for kitesurfing: a high-octane sport which sees competitors jumping, twisting and turning high in the air at rapid wind speeds over the sea.
Like rally car racing, kitesurfing has also seen a recent boom in popularity in the region.
"The State of Qatar is an amazing spot for kitesurfing," revealed Rashid Almansoori, a kitesurfing athlete and coach, and CEO of Saltykites kitesurfing store.
"It’s a peninsula, so we have the water surrounding the country, all around. We have different varieties of spots - we have the flatwater for the beginners, we have the waves for the waveriders, we have big lagoons. It’s a great spot to learn kitesurfing and also, it’s a safe one.
"Kitesurfing, yes, it's an extreme sport. But also, it can be just to cruise along. I can compare it to driving. So, driving you can drive safely, no action, no drifting. And you can go really crazy. Kitesurfing is the same.
"It's an amazing thing, that you can enjoy the nature using the strength of the wind, on the water, jumping high, doing some tricks. Kitesurfing is an amazing sport that lets you live with the nature."
Rashid represented Qatar in the 2023 GKA Kite World Tour that kicked off at Fuwairit Kite Beach. He told Euronews that his experience competing among so many world-class athletes inspired him to aim for the top.
"It was my pleasure, really, to participate [for] my country and to be the only Qatari who participate in that competition. The GKA World Tour is a world championship where all the champions around the world participate in this competition. It was a great experience. I’ve learnt a lot from the world champions and I would like one day to reach their level and to be one of the first-ranked kitesurfers in the world," he said.
Al Adaid Desert Challenge
Over the last few years, endurance races have grown in popularity all over the world. In Qatar, organisers have taken these challenges further up a notch.
Qatar's Sealine desert is the starting point of the Al Adaid Desert Challenge, the most gruelling event on the country's off-road cycling calendar.
Organised by Qatar Cyclists, the race features a 40-kilometre desert trek, over eight sand dunes, a mixed terrain of sand and gravel, and any kind of weather conditions that Mother Nature has to offer.
Participants can either cycle the route, run the route, or do both. And they have to do it come rain or shine and try to win the mental battle within themselves. Victory is sweet, and so is the feeling of accomplishing a great feat.
"The first dune was not too bad, the second one I had to stop and empty my shoes because they filled right up, and I decided to start really easy, the run, and then, like, walk up the dunes," said participant, Vicki Allan.
"By the time I got to the third one, I thought, I feel alright, so I just kept running and I don’t know why but I really loved it."
And hearing that is a win for the organisers of the Al Adaid Desert Challenge, who are not only hoping to expand their list of first-timers but also keep them coming back for more.
"The State of Qatar is distinguished in all sports such as cycling, swimming, football or any sport. We are doing this competition as a challenge for many people of all nationalities," said coach and athlete at Qatar Cyclists, Hamad Al Jaaidi.
"It’s a great feeling for us, as organisers, to see people from all over the world participate in this race and get to know the terrain of Qatar or discover Qatar by bicycle," he concluded.
Whether on two wheels or on foot, the Al Adaid Desert Challenge is gathering pace and is closer than ever to being a top-tier international race.