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Nasser Al Attiyah’s fourth Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge title is also his maiden victory with his brand-new co-driver, Edouard Boulanger. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Nasser Al Attiyah proved consistency is king, as the Qatari secured his fourth Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge (ADDC) win.

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In the two-wheeled competition, Aaron Mare took his first Desert Challenge title, giving Hero Motorsports its first FIM World Rally Raid Championship (W2RC) round win as part of a successful 33rd edition of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

Anticipation was high for the 2024 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, as the longest-standing event on the FIA and FIM rally raid calendars returned to Mezaira’a for the first time since 2002.

The site of the world’s tallest dune posed an exciting new challenge for this year’s competitors. As a result, it’s all change in the World Rally-Raid Championship Ultimate rankings, with Guerlain Chicherit, Guillaume de Mevius and Lucas Moraes all abandoning their campaigns in an arduous Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

In familiar territory, Abdulaziz Ahli won the Quads category for a fourth consecutive year on home soil, having dominated all the specials of the Desert Challenge except the Prologue.

An impressive performance saw the Emirati finish eighth in the FIM overall motorbike ranking, slotted between the Rally2 riders Sarath Mohan Mambra (SRG Motorsports) and Thomas Childs (Vendetta Racing UAE).

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Two-time world champion Al Attiyah jumps from eighth in the World Rally-Raid Championship standings to second place, with 67 points. Image Credit: Supplied

Rise in rankings

Two-time world champion Al Attiyah jumps from eighth in the World Rally-Raid Championship standings, after a disappointing retirement in the opening round, to second place, with 67 points. This puts Al Attiyah just nine points adrift of current leader, Carlos Sainz Snr. (Team Audi Sport). Al Attiyah’s fourth Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge title is also his maiden victory with his brand-new co-driver, Edouard Boulanger. It is the Frenchman’s second triumph in the race, following his success with Peterhansel in 2022.

Martin Prokop, the runner-up in last year’s Desert Challenge, charged through the final stage in his trusty “Shrek” and eventually took second in the stage. Seth Quintero is on his first T1+ podium in the World Rally-Raid Championship, and in only his second rally raid with Toyota Gazoo Racing the American impressed hugely to take third in the stage, defending his runner-up spot in this year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. Winner of the 2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Yazeed Al Rajhi takes silver in the 33rd edition, as the Saudi finished fourth in the final stage to leap from 12th to fifth overall.

Stellar show

In the bikes, the winner of the last day of racing was Ross Branch, who arguably came in as odds-on favourite to win Round Two of the 2024 World Rally-Raid Championship after a stellar second place in the opening round. The Botswanan could only finish fourth in the Desert Challenge, however, reinforcing how gruelling and unpredictable the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge can be.

Nonetheless, Branch’s points haul catapults him to the top of the World Rally-Raid Championship, 12 points clear, while UAE resident and Desert Challenge Rally GP overall winner Aaron Maré climbs to third place in the standings thanks to his maiden Desert Challenge and World Rally-Raid Championship triumph — a first ever victory by a South African in the event and a first for the Indian make Hero.

Cristina Gutiérrez was the winner of today’s stage. The Spaniard, who had already claimed victories in the Prologue and Stage 3, again finished just ahead of Rokas Baciuška. Despite finishing second today, the Can-Am Factory driver was unable to claw back enough time from his teammate Austin Jones, the new Desert Challenge Champion in the Challenger category. Baciuška might have come up 4′38″ short, but this result is good enough to propel him into the World Rally-Raid Championship lead.

Thrilling contest

2015 winner in the T2 class, Mansour Al Helei (RX-Sport), son of Desert Challenge participation record holder Yahye, clinched his second Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge title today by taking the SSV race. The Emirati finished second in the same class last season. A mere 2.42secs separated him from Yasir Seaidan (MMP), third in the last Dakar. The duel between the local hero and his Saudi neighbour was one of the most thrilling of the week.

In the Quads, Hani Alnoumesi also brought in a good result after completing the challenging route through the desert sands of Abu Dhabi. By finishing second, the Saudi took second place in the W2RC quad competition, behind Manuel Andújar (7240 Team/Dragon Rally Service), the Dakar winner.

Second in the overall standings behind the Rally GP rider Aaron Maré, Konrad Dąbrowski (Duust Rally) takes the win in Rally 2. The Pole clinched the first victory of his career in the World Rally-Raid Championship, after a near-miss in the last Desafío Ruta 40, where he finished in second place. The Frenchman also seized the lead of the World Rally-Raid Championship Rally2 category by six points over his compatriot Romain Dumontier. The Czech Jan Brabec (Strojrent Racing) rounds out the podium of the race in the category, with local hero Abdulla Lanjawi (SRG Motorsports) in fourth place.

Biggest smile

In the World Rally-Raid Championship, Al Attiyah is the driver who can leave the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge with the biggest smile on his face. Not only has he taken his revenge on the Rub Al’Khali, which ejected him from its dunes last year just before the finish of Stage 3 when he was leading the race, but the Prodrive driver has also achieved the best result of all the competitors in the world rally-raid championship. By winning the race, three stages and several places of honour, the two-time reigning world champion left Abu Dhabi with enough points to climb from eighth to second place overall — in the process giving Prodrive its first victory in the ADDC and the brand’s third in World Rally-Raid Championship.

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Abdulaziz Ahli won the Quads category for a fourth consecutive year on home soil. Image Credit: Supplied

Khalid Bin Sulayem, the EMSO President, commented: “The 33rd edition of this historic race went beyond everyone’s expectations for its intense competition, the astonishing array of desert driving skills shown by the competitors, the quality and dedication of my team, and a perfect underlying infrastructure in areas of the country that present genuine challenges. The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge works with many partners from the UAE and elsewhere including today’s stage sponsor Abu Dhabi Aviation and the Search and Rescue Center, without whose expertise and vigilance we would not be able to run this race, and I wish to extend my sincerest gratitude for all their efforts on our behalf.”

The next round of the W2RC Rally-Raid World Championship will take place in Portugal from April 2 to 7. The BP Ultimate Rally-Raid will take place in Portugal and Spain and promises unforgettable moments for cars and bikes.