For the Kwikpower Mercedes-Benz Team, the Dubai Rally represents th e first competition and the final test for the 2006 Dakar at the sam tim e

"It was a day with ups and downs," said rally driver Ellen Lohr yesterday evening, at the end of the first stage. "It was positive that the car turned out to be quick even in the deepest desert sands. The handling of the M-Class prototype is just fantastic, and in spite of the excessive desert heat, all the temperatures in the car were absolutely fine, at any time. It's a pity that we couldn't make perfect use of the car's competitiveness by securing a good result as we were penalised with a time penalty."

Due to a health problem of co-pilot Detlef Ruf, the team couldn't complete the first stage and was penalised by the stewards with six-hour time penalty. "This is annoying, quite obviously," added Ellen, "But it's far more important that Detlef is fit again. The rally has just begun. It's our goal to learn as much as possible, to test and to hone our cooperation as a team. And the penalty won't make an impact regarding these goals. Far from it, it will even increase our fighting spirit."

The dune marathon in den United Arab Emirates does not only represent the inaugural competition for the new Kwikpower Mercedes-Benz Team and the brand-new Rally prototype Mercedes ML 350 Evo II -- it's also a vital test for the 2006 Dakar Rally. Both the spectators and the media were thrilled by the new squad. During a driving event organised by DaimlerChrysler Middle East, held on the Sunday prior to the start of the rally, daily-newspaper journalists and representatives of Dubai TV had the chance of taking a ride across the dunes, as passengers of Ellen Lohr. The UAE Desert Challenge will end this Monday, 14 th November, in Dubai .