One of the big success stories of international rallying launches its 29th chapter later this month when the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge powered by Nissan takes place under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in Al Dafrah Region.
Mohammed Ben Sulayem, who jotted down his original plan for the event on a scrap of paper back in 1991, was already thinking in World Cup terms at the time, although he could not have seen how the his original idea would develop over three decades.
“So much has changed in motor sport worldwide since then, and I had no idea at the beginning that the Desert Challenge would still be going strong today,” said Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organisers, and FIA Vice President for Sport.
“Without the support of the UAE authorities this would never have been possible, and we’re especially grateful to HH Sheikh Hamdan for his encouragement and assistance, and for the overall backing we receive from the UAE Armed Forces and the Abu Dhabi government.”
Taking place from 30 March to 4 April, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge powered by Nissan 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.
The event is supported by Al Dafrah Region Municipality, Abu Dhabi Municipality, the UAE Army, Abu Dhabi Police, Nissan Middle East, Yas Marina Circuit, ADNOC, Abu Dhabi Aviation, Al-Ain Water, Tadweer, Yas Island and the Qasr Al-Sarab Resort.
One of the rally’s endearing characteristics is that, year after year, it sees competitors, officials, media and other cross country rally enthusiasts returning to Abu Dhabi for an event widely regarded as the most spectacular and ultimately rewarding on the World Cup calendar.
Again this year, the international line-up of drivers and riders from across the Middle East and overseas will be taking on a breath-taking passage through the giant dunes and salt flats of the mesmerising Al Dafrah Region.
For most of the private entries who share the stage with the world’s best, merely to finish the event is a major achievement, bearing in mind the five days of demanding desert stages which have to be negotiated.
Victory is always particularly sweet, and last year’s cars winner, Czech Martin Prokop, joined a roll of honour featuring many of cross country rallying’s most successful stars, including Ari Vatanen, Stephane Peterhansel, Jean-Louis Schlesser Luc Alphand and Nasser Al Attiyah.
It’s a similar story in the bikes category where, 12 months ago, Chilean rider Pablo Quintanilla annexed an illustrious list of winners featuring Mark Coma, Cyril Despres, Heinz Kinigadner, Toby Price and Dubai-based Sam Sunderland.
The Desert Challenge will be based at Yas Marina Circuit, and competitors start arriving at the Rally HQ on Thursday 28 March for official documentation and scrutineering of all vehicles.
The racing action will begin with a ceremonial start on the Grand Prix circuit and will see the cars, buggies, bikes and quads flagged off at 7.30pm on 30 March before heading out into the Al Dafrah Region.
For five nights, the 800-strong contingent of rally competitors, technicians, officials, medical staff, volunteers and media will be encamped at a purpose-built bivouac, before the event finishes back at Yas Marina Circuit on Saturday afternoon 4 April.
Caption: (Please use your WAM approved image of HH Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed)