Abu Dhabi, UAE, 23 March, 2018: The South Grand Stand support pits at Yas Marina Circuit were alive with activity today as competitors and mechanics fine-tuned preparations for the start of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Powered by Nissan tomorrow.
An impressive collection of T1 prototypes, modified production cars and buggies, factory-built super bikes and quads have assembled in the UAE capital, and work would continue into the early hours to get some of the cross country rally machinery ready for action.
Flagged off by H.E. Major General Mohammed Khalfan Al Rumaithi, Chairman of the General Authority for Sport, the super special spectator stagekicks off the actiontomorrow (Saturday)at 3.30pm on the Grand Prix circuit which has made Abu Dhabi one of the most recognised Formula One venues in the world over the last nine years.
On Sunday morning the rally begins in earnest when 112 competitors from 28 countriestackle the 276km Yas Marina Circuit stage, the first of five competitive sections penetrating the dunes and desert plains of the Al Dafrah Region.
To follow over the next four days are the Nissan (287.92km), Ain Water (281.38km), ADNOC (244.49km)and Abu Dhabi Aviation (218.57km) stages, ultimately taking the survivors to the finish back at Yas Marina Circuit at 4.30pm on Thursday.
“This is a fantastic event and everyone is eager to get started,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile Touring Club of the UAE and Emirates Motorsport Federation, the rally organisers.“Right now, the drivers and riders are like footballers getting ready for a game. They prepare for days, the adrenalin builds up, and you can sense that as we get ready for the start.”
Taking place under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in Al Dafrah Region, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Powered by Nissan is supported by Al Dafrah Region Municipality, Abu Dhabi Municipality, the UAE Army, Abu Dhabi Police, Nissan Middle East, ADNOC, Abu Dhabi Aviation, Al-Ain Water, National Ambulance Service, Tadweer, YasMarina Circuit and the Qasr Al-Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara.
The Nissan Patrol is the official car for the event, and a fleet of them have been used by the ATCUAE’s route planning team over the last two months to lay down the competitive trail which crosses some of the most demanding desert terrain on earth.
This is the manufacturer’s 15th consecutive year as title sponsors, and as usual there is a strong Nissan presence in the starting line-up.
Oman’s Abdullah Al Zubair will be aiming to capture the T2 production class title in his Nissan Patrol, while a quartet of Nissan Navarasare entered by UAE-based Tom Bell and ShameerVariawa, Romanian Laurentiu-ClaudiuBarbu and South African Terence Marsh.
The Desert Challenge is the third round of this year’s FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and buggies and the opening round of the FIM World Cup for bikes and quads.
Launched in 1991 by Ben Sulayem, a record-breaking rally driver and now FIA Vice President for Sport, it was the Middle East’s first world championship motor sport event and has an atmosphere all of its own, luring competitors back year after year.
Among its attractions is the fact that Arab competitors and other local-based enthusiasts share the international stage with the world’s best drivers and riders and the powerful manufacturer-backed teams.
Chasing back-to-back drivers’ titles, the UAE’s Khalid Al Qassimi is on a Desert Challenge winners list which reads like a Who’s Who of world-class cross country rallying, including Jean-Louis Schlesser, Bruno Saby, Ari Vatanen and Stephane Peterhansel.
Dubai-based defending bikes champion Sam Sunderland is also in very good company. The dominant Peterhansel won the Desert Challenge on two wheels before switching to four, as did Cyril Despres (five times), while Marc Coma (six times) and Toby Price are two other Dakar Rally winners to have found bikes success in Abu Dhabi.
1 Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the ATCUAE with Juergen Schmitz, Managing Director Nissan Middle East
2 French legend Luc Alphand, the 2006 Desert Challenge winner, who steps out of retirement eight years after a motor bike accident to drive a John Cooper Works Buggy in the event.
3 Dubai-based Sam Sunderland, the defending bikes champion, with 2018 Dakar Rally winner Matthias Walkner