Four-times world rally champion says team work could make him a threat, but Peterhansel is the man to beat
Dubai, UAE, 29 September 2004: Four-times world rally champion Juha Kankkunen believes a first-time victory in next month's UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge could be out of his reach, but team work could make him a threat if hot favourite Stephane Peterhansel encounters any problems.
The flying Finn links up with French star Bruno Saby and top German lady driver Jutta Kleinschmidt in a three-car Volkswagen team for the penultimate round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies from October 11-15.
It will be a Middle East debut for Kankkunen, who is in the record books as the youngest ever world rally champion, the first to win the title in consecutive years, and one of only two to have claimed it four times.
And he is relishing the challenge ahead in the UAE desert, and looking forward to being reunited with Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the 14-times Middle East rally champion and chairman of the organising committee for the Desert Challenge.
"I've heard so much about the rally from many people, including my co-driver (Juha Repo) who has done the event before with (former world champion) Ari Vatanen," said Kankkunen, speaking from his home in Finland.
"They all tell me the UAE is great place, the people are so friendly, and it's the best rally of the year. And of course I'm looking forward to seeing Mohammed (Ben Sulayem) again. He's a fantastic guy, a good friend, and a great driver himself.
"I've known him since we met in Kenya (Safari Rally) in 1986 when he came to watch and we did some testing. He could have been a factory driver in the World Rally Championship himself, that's for sure. But it's nice that he is also involved in the sport as an organiser of his own event."
Analysing his Desert Challenge prospects, Kankkunen said: "I don't really think I can win this time. I don't have much experience in this kind of event. The Mitsubishis will be hard to beat. Peterhansel is very fast, and so is (Hiroshi) Masuoka. But I have a beautiful team, and if we work well together we could get a good result. I have known Bruno (Saby) since his Lancia days and I've just met (Jutta). There's a great atmosphere, our team manager is a fantastic guy, so the team has a bright future."
Taking place from October 11-15, the event 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.
Like another former world rally champion competing in the Desert Challenge for the first time, Britain's Colin McRae, Kankkunen has been edged out of the World Rally Championship as the major manufacturers have opted for younger stars. Given a new lease of life by the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies he says: "I'm doing the Desert Challenge and then the Dakar Rally, and I want to give the team as much help as I can in testing, and then think about doing more events in the future."
The 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, Messina Line, Oasis Water, Inmarsat, providers of satellite communications, Konica copiers, website designers ANLONITS, Benq, Samsung, What's On, 7 Days, as well as Dubai International Marine Club and Le Meridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina, the co-hosts for the event.