Former World Rally Champion had been looking forward to Desert Challenge return

Mohammed Ben Sulayem said today that the death of former World Rally Champion Colin McRae in a helicopter crash at the weekend was a tragic loss for motorsport.

"Colin was a good friend and I am very shocked by what has happened," said Sulayem, President of the Emirates Automobile and Touring Club.

"He was a fantastic driver and a great ambassador for British rallying, and for the sport as a whole. He had a wonderful career in the World Rally Championship and was now adding another chapter in cross country rallying. He had so much more ahead of him. This is a tragic loss."

Sulayem had been looking forward to welcoming McRae back for his second attempt at the UAE Desert Challenge, part of the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup, at the end of next month.

"I met up with him at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England in June, and he told me then that he was looking forward to coming back to the UAE to try to win the Desert Challenge," said Sulayem.

McRae was killed and his five year-old son feared dead in a helicopter crash on Saturday afternoon. Reports said the aircraft came down in Jerviswood, Lanarkshire, Scotland, half a mile from the family's home and burst into flames.

McRae's agent said the 39-year-old driver had been piloting the helicopter himself. Also on board were believed to be his son Johnny, another adult - said by locals to be a school friend of McRae - and another child. McRae's wife Alison and their daughter Hollie, nine, were not on board, friends said.

McRae, the 1995 World Rally Champion with 25 individual WRC victories to his name, had earlier this year joined the BMW X-raid team and was due to compete for them at this year's UAE Desert Challenge from 28th October -- 2nd November. On his first appearance in the event three years ago his challenge was halted by engine problems.