Four-times world rally champion teams up with two other former Dakar Rally winners for major effort in UAE
Dubai, UAE, 20 September 2004: Four-times world rally champion Juha Kankkunen has joined the powerful line-up of overseas stars setting their sights on victory in next month's UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge.
The flying Finn links up with French star Bruno Saby and top Germany lady driver Jutta Kleinschmidt in an impressive three-car Volkswagen team for the penultimate round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies from October 11-15.
The fact that all three have won the gruelling Dakar Rally highlights the strength of the team's challenge in the UAE, where the latest entry list shows 129 drivers and riders from 36 countries are now preparing for a spectacular test of man and machine across some of the most dramatic desert terrain on earth.
Kankkunen, who will be driving one of three new Volkswagen Race-Touaregs in the Desert Challenge, is one of the most successful drivers in the history of the World Rally Championship, and will be aiming to now extend his run of success into the very different but equally demanding world of off-road rallying."
"Juha is one of the all-time great rally drivers, and I'm very excited that he will be coming to the UAE," said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, chairman of the organising committee for the UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge. "It has always been our aim to attract all the top teams, and the best drivers and riders from around the world."
Kankkunen will be one of two former world rally champions making his competitive Middle East debut in the event, and like Britain's Colin McRae, he is eager to make an immediate impact in the World Cup series.
The Desert Challenge is held under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and H.H. General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Minister of Defence of the UAE.
Kankkunen, who will be partnered by Finnish co-driver Juha Repo, has had a unique career, and it would be no surprise if he scored a first-time win in the UAE. In 1986, at the age of 27, he became the youngest ever world rally champion in his first full championship season. The following year he became the first driver to successfully defend his title, and his feat in winning the championship four times has been matched only by Tommi Makinen. His haul of 23 rally victories in the World Championship was also a record before being surpassed by McRae two years ago.
Kankkunen's team-mates are anything but strangers to the UAE Desert Challenge. Saby, one of the most experienced drivers in off-road rallying, has become a familiar face in the event over the past 14 years, and won it in 1996. Kleinschmidt's reputation as a world-class driver has been helped by some courageous displays in the UAE, and her status was confirmed in 2001 when she became the first lady driver to win the Dakar Rally.
The 2004 Desert Challenge is co-sponsored by Nissan, official vehicle supplier to the organisers, Nakheel, the Government of Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, Emarat, ADNOC, Oasis Water, Inmarsat, providers of satellite communications, Konica copiers, website designers ANLONITS, as well as Dubai International Marine Club and Le Meridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina, the co-hosts for the event and the official Rally HQ.
Following a Prologue stage for spectators at the Jebel Ali Racecourse in Dubai on October 10, the new five-day format will be officially launched from the Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi the following morning.