Abu Dhabi: The UAE’s Khalid Al Qasimi and Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi will be battling the odds, and event history, when they each set off in pursuit of victory on Sunday morning in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge (ADDC) powered by Nissan.
After Saturday’s ceremonial start at Yas Marina Circuit, the rally begins in earnest with the 262km first of five desert stages running through the dunes and plains of the Al Dafrah Region on a route totalling 2,007km in length.
Al Qasimi, partnered by Frenchman Xavier Panseri in an Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR, knows what it is like to win the event, having done so in 2017 as his focus switched from WRC to cross-country rallying.
It had been 25 years since another Emirati, Mohammad Al Mattar, secured victory in the Desert Challenge which has seen Arab drivers find success only six times in its 28 previous editions.
While Ahmad Al Shegawi won the T2 production cars category last year, Al Rajhi is attempting to become the first outright Saudi winner, helped by German co-driver Dirk Von Zitzewitz in a Toyota Hilux Overdrive.
In sharp contrast, Stephane Peterhansel and Cyril Despres have winning odds much more in their favour in an event which has brought 15 car triumphs over the years for French drivers.
Accompanied by wife Andrea in a Mini John Cooper Works buggy, Peterhansel is responsible for five of those victories, plus one in the bikes category where Despres notched the other five by French riders before also switching from two wheels to four.
If an individual country’s success matters, Honda works team rider Joan Barreda Port could have a strong chance of denying KTM rival Sam Sunderland a second Desert Challenge bikes crown in three years.
“We’ve had so many great champions over the years, and I’m proud when I look at the long list of famous drivers and riders who have come here to win,” said Mohammad Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organisers, and FIA Vice President for Sport.
“Whether you’re a world-class competitor or an amateur enthusiast competing against the best in the sport, you can’t fail to be impressed by our record. It’s always interesting, as well as difficult, to guess who this year’s winners will be.”