|Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge: Stage set for World-Class show in Abu Dhabi|
The stage is set for a big week of world-class rally action in the "Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge", which starts on Saturday under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region.
The 24th edition of the Middle East’s first world championship motor sport event begins with a power-packed super special spectator stage sending 108 drivers and riders from 32 countries into action over a twisting 2 km circuit on Yas Island starting at 3pm.
The following morning the mighty international procession of cars, bikes and quads set off on the 290-km Yas Marina Circuit special stage, the first of five demanding desert sections which carve a spectacular route among the giant dunes of the UAE’s Western Region of Al Garbia.
The next three days bring the ADNOC (269 km), Qasr Al Sarab (256 km) and Nissan Patrol (239 km) special stages, all centred on the desert bivouac, before the 244 km Abu Dhabi Aviation stage takes the survivors back to the finish on Yas Island next Thursday (10 April).
The Desert Challenge is the third round of the 2014 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars, and the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes, and the size and quality of the entry list underlines the event’s status in the world of off road rallying.
"This is an event that everyone in the sport wants to win," said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organisers, and FIA Vice President, at today’s official press conference. "The desert of the Western Region has some of the most spectacular terrain on earth, and everyone who takes part has a fantastic experience. To finish the event is an achievement, and this is a true test even for the top professional drivers and riders."
Twelve months ago, Spain’s Nani Roma scored his first Desert Challenge success when he won the cars class for the first time, while fellow-countryman Marc Coma captured his seventh bikes crown. Both have returned to the UAE as reigning Dakar Rally champions and will be looking to write their names into the record books again next week.
Since the Desert Challenge was launched in 1991, Jean-Louis Schlesser is the only driver to have scored back-to-back victories in the event with a Dakar Rally win sandwiched in between, managing the feat in 1999 and 2000. Coma achieved the same distinction on his KTM in 2010 and 2011.
The defending champions both face fierce opposition on this occasion. The biggest threat to Roma could be posed by Saudi Arabia’s top seeded driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi, partnered by German Timo Gottschalk in a Hummer Prototype, who leads the FIA World Cup series after winning the first two rounds in Russia and Italy.
Among the other leading challengers are Russian driver Vladimir Vasilyev, Dutchman Erik Van Loon, and Poland’s Martin Kaczmarksi, all driving Minis, as well as Poland’s Marek Dabrowski and Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela, both driving a Toyota Hilux,
The top-ranked UAE driver is Yahya Al Helei, seeded tenth in a powerful Nissan Pick up, one of 16 Nissans in the field. His son Mansour drives one of 12 Nissan Patrols entered, as do fellow Emiratis Nabil Al Shamsi, Nooh Buhamid, Matar Al Mansoori and Ali Al Kitbi, Lebanon’s Emil Khneisser, and Saudi’s Ibrahim Al Muhana.
Heading the 61 seeded riders is Portugal’s Paulo Goncalves, the reigning FIM world champion, while second seed Coma could also come under pressure from new KTM team-mate Sam Sunderland, the talented young Dubai-based rider who came close to winning last year.
2014/04/03 | 19:53 CET | ARTICLE: MR/HS/TONY LEWIS