Abu Dhabi, UAE, 22 March, 2018: The stage is set for another epic chapter of cross country rallying in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Powered by Nissan, which starts 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, the national motor sport authority, the event forms the third round of the 2018 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 112 competitors from 28 countries have assembled at Yas Marina Circuit, the rally HQ, for the 28th edition of the Desert Challenge which gets underway at 3.30pm on Saturday with a super special spectator stage on the Grand Prix Circuit, one of the world’s top F1 venues.
At an official press conference today atYas Marina Circuit, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the ATCUAE and Emirates Motorsport Federation and FIA Vice President for Sport, said: “We are again indebted to His Highness Sheikh Hamdan, and to the Abu Dhabi government, for their consistent support over the years to establish the Desert Challenge on the world stage.”
“This is always a proud moment for my team at the ATCUAE, our sponsors, and the many volunteers who give up their time each year to make the event happen, when we welcome competitors, support crews, officials and media from around the world to Abu Dhabi. We look forward to adding another chapter to the Desert Challenge success story.”
Al Tareq Al Ameri, CEO of Yas Marina Circuit, commented: “The Desert Challenge is well established as one of the world’s most prestigious international cross country rallies, and Yas Marina Circuit is proud to support the event. Each year we look to play an ever increasing role, helping the ATCUAE ensure the rally continues to showcase Abu Dhabi as a world-class sporting destination.”
Juergen Schmitz, Managing Director Nissan Middle East, said: “The 28th edition of the Desert Challenge also marks the 15th year of Nissan’s involvement as strategic partner for the event. Nissan has a strong focus on motor sport in the Middle East and the Desert Challenge forms a powerful platform for us to showcase the Nissan Patrol as the official car for the rally.
“The Nissan Special Stage on Monday will be one of the toughest and most spectacular competitive sections in the event, providing a stern test for competitors over 287.92 kms of dramatic desert terrain.”
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, Yas Marina Circuit and the Qasr Al-Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara.
Defending champions Khalid Al Qassimi and Sam Sunderland both face a difficult test as they attempt to hold on to their cars and bikes titles.Partnered by French co-driver Xavier Panseri in a Peugeot Abu Dhabi Racing Team 3008 DKR, Emirati Al Qassimiis eager to bounce back from his first leg mechanical problems in the recent Dubai International Baja won by Poland’s Jakub Przygonski and Belgian co-driver Tom Colsoul in a Mini John Cooper.
Przygonskireturns to action as part of a six-car X-raid team challenge also featuring Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhiand German co-driver Timo Gottschalk, Austrian Chris Rosenberger and German Nicola Bleicher, Italian Eugenio Amos and Portugal’s Filipe Palmeiro, and German Stephan Schott with Portugal’s Paulo Fiuza.
Completing the line-up is French legend Luc Alphand who steps out of retirement eight years after suffering serious injuries in a motor bike accident. Alphand, the former World Cup downhill champion who retired from competitive skiing in 1997, won both the Desert Challenge and the Dakar Rally in 2006 and returns to rally action in a John Cooper Works Buggy with German co-driver Andreas Schultz.
Last year’s runners up, Czechs Martin Prokop and Jan Tomanek, are back in the Ford F-150 Evo which took them to fourth place in the Dubai Baja.Russian Vladimir Vasilyev, Desert Challenge winner in 2014 and 2015 with Konstantin Zhiltsov, is trying to become only the third driver in the rally’s history to win the event three times while France’s five-times bikes winner Cyril Despres returns at the wheel of a Buggy Ford 2WD alongside Chilean co-driver Steve Ravussin.
Sunderland will be under pressure again from the two riders who completed the top three last year, Chilean Pablo Quintanilla on a Husqvarna and KTM factory team-mate, Austria’s reigning Dakar Rally champion, Matthias Walkner.But 2014 winner Paulo Goncalves, American Ricky Brabec, Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, Chilean Jose Ignacio Cornejo and Frenchman Michael Metge will be battling to take Honda to victory.
Meanwhile, top Emirati rider Mohammed Al Balooshi has another opportunity to measure himself against the world’s best after recording his first World Cup rally win in Dubai.
Saturday’s super special stage at Yas Marina Circuit gives spectators a close-up view of the action as the cars, buggies, bike and quads race against the clock before the heading off the following morning into the desert plains and mighty dunes of the Al Dafrah Region. For five nights, the 800-strong contingent of competitors, technicians, officials, medical staff, volunteers and media will be encamped at a purpose-built bivouac, close to the Qasr Al-Sarab DesertResort by Anantara,before the event finishes back at Yas Marina Circuit at 4.30pm on Thursday.
Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Powered By Nissan –Rally schedule:
Saturday: Super Special Spectator Stage – Yas Marina Circuit – start 3.30pm.
Sunday: Yas Marina Circuit Stage 1 (276.01km)
Monday: Nissan Stage 2 (287.92km)
Tuesday: Al Ain Water Stage 3 (281.38km)
Wednesday: ADNOC Stage 4 (244.49km)
Thursday: Abu Dhabi Aviation Stage 5 (218.57km)
Finish: Yas Marina Circuit – 4.30pm.