Abu Dhabi: The eyes of the cross country rallying fraternity will be on the UAE capital when the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, powered by Nissan, kickstart on Saturday.
Organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE), the national motorsport authority, the event forms the second round of the 2019 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and buggies and the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes and quads.
A powerful line-up of 119 competitors from 34 countries have assembled at Yas Marina Circuit, the rally HQ, for the 29th edition of the Desert Challenge which gets under way with a ceremonial 7.30pm start on Saturday on the Grand Prix Circuit, one of the world’s top F1 venues.
Addressing the official press conference at Yas Marina Circuit on Thursday, Mohammad Bin Sulayem, president of the ATCUAE and FIA Vice President for Sport, said: “For everyone at the ATCUAE, as well as our sponsors and the volunteers who give up their time each year, this is a proud moment when we welcome competitors, support crews, officials and media from around the world. Many return year after year, and together we look forward to adding another chapter to the Desert Challenge success story.”
Al Tareq Al Ameri, CEO of Yas Marina Circuit, said: “Once again we are honoured to be playing a growing role in helping the ATCUAE ensure the rally continues to showcase Abu Dhabi as a world-class sporting destination.
“The Desert Challenge is widely recognised as one of the world’s best international cross country rallies, and Yas Marina Circuit is proud to support the event.”
Czech driver Martin Prokop, back at the wheel of a Ford Raptor RS, faces a huge test as he looks to defend his cars title alongside Viktor Chitka.
Among his biggest rivals in the 39-vehicle FIA World Cup line-up are French star Stéphane Peterhansel who scored the last of his five cars victories in 2011 and returns in an X-raid Mini John Cooper Works buggy with wife Andrea as co-driver.
Heading the seedings list are the top two from this year’s World Cup standings following the first round in Qatar, Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Alrajhi in a Toyota Hillux Overdrive and Russia’s two-time Desert Challenge winner Vladimir Vasilyev in a BMW X3.
Biding for his second Desert Challenge triumph is the UAE’s Khalid Al Qasimi in the Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR, while Frenchman Cyril Despres, a five-times Desert Challenge bikes winner, drives another X-raid Mini John Cooper Works buggy. The host country’s five-car challenge also sees Yahya Al Helei starting his 29th consecutive Desert Challenge in a Nissan Pick Up.