ARAB DRIVERS BID TO BREAK RUN OF OVERSEAS WINS IN ABU DHABI DESERT CHALLENGE

Al Attiyah, Al Qassimi, Al Rajhi primed for victory battle on FIA World Cup stage

Two of the biggest rivals in Middle East motor sport will be battling against history, as well as each other, when they chase victory in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED BY Nissan next week.  

Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah and the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi are seeded second and third respectively for the 26th edition of the event running from 2-7 April, and both are highly capable of breaking a run of seven successive wins by overseas drivers in the UAE.  

His triumph in 2008 made Al Attiyah only the third Arab driver to enjoy success in the Desert Challenge, and on numerous occasions since and before then he has been frustrated by the demands of a route crossing the dramatic desert terrain of the Western Region of Al Gharbia.  

You have to look back to the event’s origins to find the other two Arab champions – the UAE’s Mohammed Mattar who won the first two editions in 1991 and 1992, and Qatari Saeed Al Hajri who took the honours in 1993.  

Al Attiyah went into last year’s Desert Challenge as the warm favourite, having secured his second Dakar Rally win a few weeks earlier.  

While he led at the finish, the Qatari was excluded shortly afterwards for a technical irregularity, and he returns to the UAE looking to put that disappointment behind him. Again he is partnered by French navigator Matthieu Baumel, this time in an Overdrive Toyota Hilux. Al Attiyah and Sheikh Khalid have competed against each other over two decades in the Middle East and World Rally Championships, and their rivalry was extended to the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies when the Emirati made his Desert Challenge debut 12 months ago.  

He was immediately on the pace, and by the penultimate leg was within reach of a podium place when his Toyota Hilux went out with a broken gearbox.  
This time he will be looking for better fortunes at the wheel of a MINI ALL4 Racing alongside Emirati co-driver Khalid Al Kendi.  

“This is a World Cup event attracting top competitors from around the globe, and it’s no surprise that we have had so many overseas winners over the years,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organisers, and President of EMSF.  

“But Nasser obviously has to be one of the big favourites again this time, while Khalid showed last year how capable he is in cross country rallying. Yazeed Al Rajhi could also be in there fighting for the win, so the chances of an Arab driver coming through are good.”  

Saudi Al Rajhi, the No.4 seeded driver behind Al Attiyah and Al Qassimi, returns looking to build on his fourth place finish last year in partnership with German co-driver Timo Gottschalk in a Mini ALL4 Racing.  

The man they all have to beat is Russia’s Vladimir Vasilyev, winner for the last two years, who tops the seedings in the 62-strong cars category alongside Konstantin Zhilstov in another Mini.   Taking place under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Western region, the 26th Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is the second round of the 2016 FIA World Cup series and the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes.  

The Nissan Patrol, the “Hero of All terrain in Life”, is positioned for the 13th year as the official vehicle of the event. The line-up of strategic sponsors and partners includes the Ruler’s Court in the Western Region, Western Region Municipality, Abu Dhabi Municipality, the UAE Army, Abu Dhabi Police, National Ambulance Service, Nissan, Yas Marina Circuit, ADNOC, Abu Dhabi Aviation, Tadweer (The Center of Waste Management – Abu Dhabi), Rotana and Centro Hotels - Yas Island, Qasr Al Sarab Resort, and DP World.  

The Desert Challenge gets under way with a super special spectator stage at Al Forsan International Sports Resort in Abu Dhabi on 2 April, before heading out into the Rub Al Khali for five days of spectacular desert stages. The event finishes at Yas Marina Circuit on 7 April.