Abu Dhabi: Mohammed Ben Sulayem says the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, the spectacular event he founded 30 years ago, will fit perfectly into the new FIA World Rally-Raid Championship which takes cross country rallying into a new era next year.
Taking place under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in Al Dhafra Region, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge reaches a new milestone this week as the longest running cross country rally in the Middle East.
“We thank Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan for his continued support and encouragement as we celebrate the rally’s 30th anniversary,” said Ben Sulayem, President of the Emirates Motorsports Organization (EMSO) and FIA Vice President for Sport.
“This has been vitally important, putting us in a strong position now from which we can look forward to an exciting new chapter for cross country rallying.”
Ben Sulayem, currently on FIA duties overseas, guided the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge into the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies in 1993, two years after its launch, and sees it as one of the elite events which can fully embrace the sport’s new direction.
The World Cup series will be replaced next year when the FIA, motor sport’s world governing body, introduces the new World Rally-Raid championship. The accent is on new, alternative and experimental technologies, in line with the FIA’s environmental strategy to support climate action, technology and innovation, and sustainable practices.
Major event sponsors, and an international line-up of drivers and riders contesting the 30th Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, were introduced during today’s press conference at Yas Marina Circuit, which was hosted by the EMSO’s CEO, Mahir Badri.
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is supported by the Ruler’s Representative Court Al Dhafra Region, UAE Armed Forces, the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, ADNOC Distribution, Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi Aviation, National Ambulance, Al-Futtaim Toyota, Abu Dhabi Police, Abu Dhabi Municipality, Al Dhafra Region Municipality, Al-Ain Water and Tadweer.
“This is a proud moment for everyone at the EMSO, as well as our sponsors who provide invaluable support, and the volunteers who give up their time each year to make the rally happen,” said Badri.
“Over the years, we have enjoyed seeing so many of the sport’s top competitors display their skills in this great event, with our local riders and drivers having the chance to share an exciting world stage. We look forward to more of the same as we mark the 30th anniversary.”
Al Tareq Al Ameri, CEO of Yas Marina Circuit, the official HQ for the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, commented: “Once again, we are pleased to be partnering the EMSO in ensuring the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge continues to showcase Abu Dhabi as a world-class sporting destination.
“This is unquestionably one of the world’s leading international cross country rallies, and Yas Marina Circuit is proud of its part in helping the event to achieve its impressive 30-year record.”
Today’s press conference line-up included Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah, Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge champion in 2008 and 2016, and leader in this year’s FIA World Cup standings, and the UAE’s Khalid Al Qassimi, winner of his home event in 2017.
Holding second place in the FIA World Cup drivers’ standings, Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi seeks his first Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge as Emirati driver Yahya Al Helei extends a remarkable 30-year, 100% appearance record in his home event.
He shared the press conference spotlight with son Mansour, who originally co-drove for his father before taking the wheel, as well as Molly Taylor, in the record books as the first female Australian Rally Champion, after becoming the youngest ever driver to win the series in 2016.
The top riders present today included Austria’s new FIM Cross-Country Rallies World champion Matthias Walkner, Emirati Mohammed Al Balooshi, the first rider from the GCC region to win the FIM Bajas World Cup title, and Poland’s six-times FIM World Cup quads champion, Rafal Sonik.
Also appearing at the press conference were French star Adrien Van Beveren, Australian former enduro specialist Daniel Sanders, 2015 womens’ FIM Cross-Country Rally world champion Anastasiya Nifontova, and Portugal’s Joaquim Rodrigues, who raced professionally as a Supercross and Motocross rider for 27 years before entering rallying.
Following the Satuday afternoon (1.30pm) Yas Island Super Special Stage for bikes and quads, the Abu Desert Challenge heads into the Al Dhafra dunes tomorrow morning for the first of five testing stages. The rally finishes back at Yas Marina Circuit next Thursday afternoon.
7 Nov Stage 1 Ruler’s Representative Court Al Dhafrah Region - 262.02km
8 Nov Stage 2 ADNOC Distribution- 333.43km
9 Nov Stage 3 Abu Dhabi Sports Council - 293.00km
10 Nov Stage 4 Abu Dhabi Aviation - 251.98km
11 Nov Stage 5 Yas Marina Circuit - 162.94km