ABU DHABI DESERT CHALLENGE SET TO LAUNCH CLASSIC ADVENTURE FOR POWERFUL WORLD-CLASS LINE-UP

Saturday afternoon super special stage brings rally to life ahead of dramatic desert action in Western Region

The eyes of the cross country rallying world are on the UAE capital again as the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED BY Nissan prepares to launch another spectacular episode of World Cup and World Championship action.

Taking place under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Western region, the Desert Challenge is organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the national motor sport authority.

The 26th edition of the event gets under way at 3pm on Saturday with a super special spectator stage at Al Forsan International Sports Resort in Abu Dhabi, before the rally sweeps out into the Western Region of Al Gharbia to cross some of the most dramatic terrain on earth.

A powerful line-up of 166 competitors from 36 countries have assembled at Yas Marina Circuit, the rally HQ, for the second round of the 2016 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies and the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship.

Heading the 62-strong cars category are Russia’s defending champions and top seeds Vladimir Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhilstov who are aiming to complete a hat-trick of successive victories in one of seven prototype All4 Racing Minis entered.

A press conference staged by the ATCUAE at Yas Marina Circuit today was attended by sponsors of the Desert Challenge as well as the participants in the event in order to announce the launch of the 26th edition of the rally.

“Once again we are indebted to His Highness Sheikh Hamdan, and to the Abu Dhabi government, for their consistent support over the years to make this an event known and respected worldwide,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the ATCUAE.

“We’re very happy to welcome such a strong gathering of competitors, support crews, officials and media to the UAE. It means a great deal to me, to my team at the ATCUAE, our sponsors, and the many volunteers who give up their time each year and work so hard with us to make it happen.”

Al Tareq Al Ameri, CEO of Yas Marina Circuit, commented: “Being one of the world's most prestigious international cross country rallies, Yas Marina Circuit is proud to support The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. 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.”

Samir Cherfan, Managing Director, Nissan Middle East, said: “The 26th edition of the Desert Challenge also marks the 13th year of Nissan’s involvement as strategic partner for the event. Nissan has a strong focus on motorsports in the Middle East and the Desert Challenge forms a powerful platform for us, particularly as it is regarded as the leading event in the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies.

“We look forward to continue our partnership and driving it to a new level. The Nissan Special Stage on the fourth leg, taking place on 6th April, will be arguably the rally’s toughest section, stretching across some 258 kms of the most testing rallying terrain available.”

Among the biggest rivals for Vasilyev’s driver’s Desert Challenge title are Qatar’s two-times Dakar Rally winner Nasser Al Attiyah, the UAE’s most experienced World Rally Championship contender Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi and Finland’s 2012 WRC runner-up Mikko Hirvonen.

Sheikh Khalid is a driving a new Abu Dhabi Racing MINI ALL4 Racing which he will unveil after today’s official press conference when joined by Mohammed Ben Sulayem.

The host country’s 18-car challenge also includes Yahya Al Helei who maintains his 100% appearance in the event as the eighth seed, while his son Mansour looks to capture the T2 production class title for the second year in a row. Also among the top ten seeds is female German driver Jutta Kleinschmidt, who remains the only woman to have won the Dakar Rally following her 2001 success.

With 42 riders from 12 nations assembled in Abu Dhabi and a first-time bikes champion guaranteed this time. Last year’s runner-up, Dubai-based British rider Sam Sunderland, is the top seed, followed by Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla who finished third 12 months ago, and this year’s Dakar Rally winner, Australian Toby Price, who is chasing victory on his Desert Challenge debut.

Top Emirati rider Mohammed Al Balooshi, who has a succession of Arab moto cross titles to his credit, is seeded fourth as he looks to build on successive sixth place finishes, while multiple Spanish and European motorcycle trials champion Laia Sanz, among four female riders in action, is seeded sixth.

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.

Saturday’s super special stage at Al Forsan International Sports Resort gives spectators the chance to see the cars, buggies, bike and quads surge into action in a race against the clock before the rally heads off into the desert plains and mighty dunes of the Western Region of Al Gharbia. The event finishes at Yas Marina Circuit next Thursday.

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED BY Nissan – Rally schedule:

  • Saturday: Super Special Spectator Stage - Al Forsan International Sports Resort – start 3pm.
  • Sunday: Yas Marina Circuit Stage 1 (278km)
  • Monday: ADNOC Stage 2 (279km)
  • Tuesday: Al Ain Water Stage 3 (280km)
  • Wednesday: Nissan Patrol Stage 4 (258km)
  • Thursday: Abu Dhabi Aviation Stage 5 (234km) Finish: Yas Marina Circuit – 4.30pm.