SAINZ IN LINE FOR MIDDLE EAST RALLY DEBUT IN UAE DESERT CHALLENGE Double World Rally Champion heads for reunion with Sulayem as Volkswagen aim to build on Saby's World Cup success Dubai, UAE, 31 August 2005: Carlos Sainz, the most...
SAINZ IN LINE FOR MIDDLE EAST RALLY DEBUT IN UAE DESERT CHALLENGE
Double World Rally Champion heads for reunion with Sulayem as Volkswagen aim to build on Saby's World Cup success
Dubai, UAE, 31 August 2005: Carlos Sainz, the most successful World Rally Championship driver ever, is in line to make his competitive Middle East debut in the UAE Desert Challenge in November.
Sainz is ready to start his first event with the triumphant Volkswagen works team for which Frenchman Bruno Saby has already clinched the drivers' crown in the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup.
With that title wrapped up Volkswagen has extended its 2005 event programme to include the Baja Anta da Serra 500 in Portugal in October as well as the Desert Challenge, sixth and last round of the World Cup series. And while the driver line-up for the two events has yet to be finalised, the odds are on Sainz taking part in the UAE to give him vital competitive experience in the Volkswagen Race-Touareg before the 2006 Dakar Rally.
That would bring about a reunion between the two-times former World Rally Champion from Spain and Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the 14-times Middle East rally champion and organiser of the Desert Challenge which takes place from 10-14 November.
"I'm sure Carlos will be coming here and we're really looking forward to him taking part in the Desert Challenge for the first time," said Sulayem. "I first met him in 1987 when we competed in the Asturias Rally in Spain, before he joined the World Championship.
"When I started my Group N World Championship programme in 1992 we used to practice together and became great friends. I always hoped that he would come to the Middle East to compete one day."
Sainz, with 26 World Rally Championship victories to his credit, linked up with German co-driver Andreas Schulz in the Volkswagen works team in June to join the pairings of Saby and Michel Perin, Jutta Kleinschmidt and Fabrizia Pons and Giniel de Villiers and Tina Thorner. It is expected that at least two Volkswagen Race-Touaregs will contest the Desert Challenge, which Saby won in 1996 and has seen Kleinschmidt twice finish third.
Sainz, the 1990 and 1992 World Rally Champion, is one of the sport's all-time greats, and with the WRC door now closed behind him he has the chance to add another successful chapter to his brilliant career in the world of off-road rallying.
Saby clinched the World Cup title with three wins out of four rounds so far this year, and Volkswagen will miss next month's Pharaohs' Rally in Egypt and carry out further testing in readiness for the Dakar Rally before selecting its drivers for the Desert Challenge.
Sainz would become the fourth former World Rally Champion to have competed in the Desert Challenge following Ari Vatanen -- winner of the event in 1997 - Juha Kankkunen and Colin McRae.
Sulayem, who has always made it one of his priorities to attract the world's best drivers and riders to the UAE, has this week been escorting another famous visitor around his home city of Dubai.
He hosted pop superstar Michael Jackson, who was on a private visit to the Emirate with H.H.Sheikh Abdullah bin Hamed Al Khalifa, son of the King of Bahrain. "Michael is a fantastic person and I really enjoyed meeting him and showing him around," said Sulayem, who hopes to attract celebrities into the Desert Challenge in the future.
"Off-road rallying is about the only sport in the world where a relatively inexperienced driver can enter a World Championship event and compete against the best. Several prominent celebrities have shown interest and it's a real possibility."