The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge enters a new era next month when the Middle East’s most established cross-country rally takes place under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in Al Dhafra Region.
Just four months after completing its 30th anniversary edition, the event returns to form the second round of the new World Rally-Raid World Championship from March 5 to 10, with all indications pointing to a bumper international entry.
Providing a formidable test of nerve and concentration for competitors, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge was founded in 1991 by Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the new FIA President.
For the first time this year, FIA and FIM cross-country rallying events are unified within a single world championship, as the two motorsport world governing bodies look to the future.
New FIA technical regulations, for instance, see the arrival of rally cars designed to significantly reduce environmental impact, and there’s a focus on consistency in the way the five championship events are run to benefit competitors on four and two wheels from around the world.
The bottom line is that cross-country rallying is at another level, with the world’s best drivers and riders, teams and manufacturers, coming together for an elite series of events and the global spotlight now falling on Abu Dhabi.
“This would not have been possible without the enormous support we have received from the UAE authorities, and we would like to thank HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan for his consistent backing and encouragement,” said Khalid Bin Sulayem, the Emirates Motorports Organisation’s newly elected President. “We have 30 years of history and achievements to look back on, but our priority is to help give cross country rallying a bright, long-term future.”
The EMSO sees the appointment of Amaury Sport Organisation as promoter of the new world championship as a powerful move towards bigger and better entry levels in Abu Dhabi and across the championship.
The EMSO has a close working relationship with ASO, which designs and organises top international sporting events from the Tour De France to the Dakar Rally, and was appointed two years ago as official TV production company for the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
In last month’s Dakar, opening round of the championship, Prodrive Hunters running on sustainable fuel took second and fourth places while cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent.
The route ahead is clear for car and bike-makers, and the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is an ideal test ground for new technology, and an important step to determine the first World Rally-Raid champions.
The event is once again based at the UAE capital’s F1 venue, Yas Marina Circuit, where the service park opens from March 4 prior to the start taking place at 7pm the following day.
On March 6, the rally heads out from Abu Dhabi across the Al Dhafra region’s spectacular desert landscape, with five stages of 264km, 318km, 270km, 257km and 217km added to road sections of 519km for an overall length of 1,917km.