Qatar's Nasser Al Attiyah will be using all his past experiences to overcome the challenging terrain during the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Some of world’s best off-road drives will be eager to showcase their skills and conquer the sand dunes in what promises to be a thrilling week in the new route at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, which kicks off with the 5km ADNOC Oasis Prologue in Al Dhannah City on February 26 and will conclude on March 2.

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The Prologue of the 33rd edition of this race, Prodrive’s Nasser Al Attiyah and his principle regional rival Yazeed Al Rajhi of Saudi Arabia in a Toyota Hilux for Overdrive will be at their most determined, drawing on their considerable desert racing experience to compensate for disappointing retirements in Round One in January.

More than 150 competitors will take to the unpredictable and challenging sands of the Al Dhafra region, including this year’s two-wheel sensation Tobias Ebster on a KTM in the Moto R2 class. Ebster is the nephew of KTM legend Heinz Kinigadner, and the brilliant youngster is known as Mini Kini. He competed in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge last year and won the Road to Dakar title, before finishing 20th overall in the first round of the W2RC 2024.

Australian Toby Price is one of the 150 competitors to take on the unpredictable and challenging sands of the Al Dhafra Region. Image Credit: Supplied

Now in its third year as part of the FIA & FIM World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC), Abu Dhabi’s thrilling desert rally-raid continues to evolve, as the Emirates Motorsports Organisation (EMSO) works to fine-tune the event, introducing even more demanding sections with the support of Energy Partner, ADNOC Distribution. The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge marks the second round of the W2RC Rally-Raid Championship and is yet another milestone in the long-term collaboration between the EMSO and ADNOC Distribution.

Action closer to fans

Evolving the route to bring the event to both Al Dhannah and Mezair’Ah in the Liwa Region marks exciting progress for the Challenge, as the Government of Abu Dhabi, ADNOC Distribution and the EMSO look to push further development in these areas and bring the racing action closer to the fans, who turned out in their thousands during last year’s Prologue in Al Dhannah City.

Surrounded by natural desert terrain, the people of the UAE have developed a passion for a rally-raid that sees they very best drivers and riders being tested to the limit by the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge — and this year’s desert racing promises to provide truly spectacular action with bivouacs open to the public and much greater accessibility to drivers, riders and team members.

Saudi Arabia's Yazeed Al Rajhi will be eager to compensate for his disappointing retirement in January. Image Credit: Supplied

Sainz and Brabec lead standings

As competitors ready themselves for the event, Carlos Sainz and Ricky Brabec currently top the provisional standings in the FIA and FIM categories, respectively.

Further competition in the Ultimate category (ex-T1) from Overdrive comes from 2008 Desert Challenge winner Guerlain Chicherit, plus emerging Belgian star Guillaume de Mevius. The 2018 Desert Challenge winner Martin Prokop in the Ford Raptor finished in second place overall in 2022 and 2023, and will be looking to go one better in 2024. The Brazilian Baumgart brothers, driving an X Rally Team supported Prodrive Hunter, are also expected to feature among the leading contenders this year, while 19-year-old Aliyyah Koloc from team Buggyra will be attempting to build on her very promising Dakar debut.

Following a stunning drive at last year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge to win the Challenger category and finish third in the overall classification, Seth Quintero has now moved up to a drive in the Ultimate category for Toyota Gazoo Racing (TGR), where he is joined by Brazilian Lucas Moraes and two South Africans, Saood Variawa and Guy Botterill, meaning Toyota Gazoo Racing is fielding the full line-up of its official team.