The eyes of the cross country rallying world will be on the UAE capital when the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Powered by Nissan start on Saturday under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in Al Dafrah Region.
Organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE), the national motor sport authority, the event forms the second round of the 2019 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and buggies and the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes and quads.
A powerful line-up of 119 competitors from 34 countries have assembled at Yas Marina Circuit, the rally HQ, for the 29th edition of the Desert Challenge which gets under way with a ceremonial 7.30pm start on Saturday on the Grand Prix Circuit, one of the world’s top F1 venues.
At an official press conference today at Yas Marina Circuit, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the ATCUAE and FIA Vice President for Sport, said: “Once more we are indebted to His Highness Sheikh Hamdan, and to the Abu Dhabi government, for their consistent support over the years to put the Desert Challenge on the world stage and continue its development.”
“For everyone at the ATCUAE, as well as our sponsors and the volunteers who give up their time each year, this is a proud moment when we welcome competitors, support crews, officials and media from around the world. Many return year after year, and together we look forward to adding another chapter to the Desert Challenge success story.”
Al Tareq Al Ameri, CEO of Yas Marina Circuit, commented: “Once again we are honoured to be playing a growing role in helping the ATCUAE ensure the rally continues to showcase Abu Dhabi as a world-class sporting destination.
“The Desert Challenge is widely recognised as one of the world’s best international cross country rallies, and Yas Marina Circuit is proud to support the event.”
Kalyana Sivagnanam, Regional Vice President of Marketing and Sales for Africa, the Middle East and India said: “ADDC is one of the world’s most prestigious international cross-country rallies and at Nissan, we are excited to be an essential element of this iconic Desert Challenge for the 16th consecutive year.
“Motorsports is in our DNA and since Nissan’s inception in the region we have been pushing the boundaries of innovation within the motorsports industry. Today we revealed a new concept of the Y61 Nissan Patrol, the Nissan Patrol Falcon Carbon Edition. The Patrol Carbon Edition showcases the versatility of modification and enhances the Y61 Nissan Patrol with striking new features.
The Desert Challenge is supported Abu Dhabi Aviation, Abu Dhabi Police, ADNOC, Al Ain Water, Al Dhafra Region Ruler’s Representative Court, National Ambulance, Nissan, United Arab Emirates Armed Forces and Yas Marina Circuit.
Czech driver Martin Prokop, back at the wheel of a Ford Raptor RS, faces a huge test as he looks to defend his cars title alongside Viktor Chitka.
Among his biggest rivals in the 39-vehicle FIA World Cup line-up are French star Stéphane Peterhansel who scored the last of his five cars victories in 2011 and returns in an X-raid Mini John Cooper Works buggy with wife Andrea as co-driver.
Heading the seedings list are the top two from this year’s World Cup standings following the first round in Qatar, Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Alrajhi in a Toyota Hillux Overdrive and Russia’s two-times Desert Challenge winner Vladimir Vasilyev in a BMW X3.
Biding for his second Desert Challenge triumph is the UAE’s Khalid Al Qassimi in the Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR, while Frenchman Cyril Despres, a five-times Desert Challenge bikes winner, drives another X-raid Mini John Cooper Works buggy. The host country’s five-car challenge also sees Yahya Al Helei starting his 29th consecutive Desert Challenge in a Nissan Pick Up.
Yasir Seaidan in a Nissan Navara is one of five Saudi drivers entered. Another Saudi, Khaled Al Feraihi at the wheel of a Nissan Patrol Pick Up, will be aiming to succeed fellow-countryman Ahmed Al Shegawi as winner of the T2 production cars category. Spain’s Jose-Luis Pena Campo returns to Abu Dhabi seeking a second successive buggies triumph in a Polaris.
If he is to secure his second bikes win in three years, KTM star Sam Sunderland will have to overcome the threat from Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, the top seed on this occasion, as well as his Honda team-mates Joan Barreda Bort of Spain and Chile’s Jose Cornejo. KTM’s Argentinian rider Luciano Benavides and American Husqvarna rider Andrew Short could also be in the hunt for victory.
With 41 riders contesting the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, Poland’s Rafal Sonik aims for a third quads category, with last year’s winner, Dutchman Kees Koolen, entering the bikes on this occasion.
After heading out from Abu Dhabi on Sunday morning for the first of five demanding desert stages, the rally will be based for four nights at a bivouac close to the Qasr Al-Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara. The event finishes at 5pm on Thursday 4 April back at Yas Marina Circuit.
Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge powered by Nissan, rally itinerary:
30 March: Ceremonial start at Yas Marina Circuit – 7.30pm
31 March: Yas Marina Circuit Stage 1 (261.97km) – starting 9am
1 April: Al Ain Water Stage 2 (222.80km) – starting 6.00am
2 April: Nissan Stage 3 (297.97km) – starting 6.15am
3 April: ADNOC Stage 4 (286.10km) – starting 6.00am
4 April: Abu Dhabi Aviation Stage 5 (214.47km) – starting 6.25am