SCHLESSER READY FOR BIG DESERT BATTLE
Rallying's man for all season's sends warning to rivals as he aims buggy towards sixth win in UAE
Dubai, UAE, 2nd November, 2006: The odds may be stacking up against Jean-Louis Schlesser as he looks for a sixth victory in the UAE Desert Challenge next week, but motorsport's man for all seasons is warning his rivals that he's ready for a big fight.
Driving the familiar but ever-evolving buggy with which he has become synonymous, Schlesser will need all his experience, and a total absence of misfortune, to have a chance of outpacing the prototype Mitsubishis, VWs and BMWs assembling in the UAE.
It's the kind of desert challenge that is food and drink for one of the sport's most versatile and colourful characters, who relishes the battle ahead in the final round of the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup.
"I finished third in Tunisia and second in Morocco, and there were Mitsus and VWs there as well," he points out. "Of course, we have the BMWs in the Desert Challenge as well, so it will be very tough. I'm going there to make more improvements to the car, and I've got a new co-pilot (Emmanuel Guigou) who is rallying for the first time. He has no experience at all.
"But I think I can still win if I don't have any bad luck," adds the former French Formula 3 champion who has also starred in Formula One, and at Le Mans, in a fascinating career. "I might struggle in the dunes because I only have two wheel drive. But at worst I can be a real pain in the backside to the others."
Schlesser scored his first Desert Challenge victory in 1994 and won again the following year, going on to complete three more successive wins in the event from 1999 to become the dominant force in the World Cup series.
Third on his last appearance in the event in 2003, he returns to his happy hunting ground after a two-year gap determined to make the most of his latest desert adventure, and looking forward to a reunion with Desert Challenge founder, Mohammed Ben Sulayem.
"I really enjoy the Desert Challenge," he says. "Mohammed has become a great friend and we always get a warm welcome in the UAE. These are the main reasons for going there again. The people are very hospitable. They treat you as friends, not clients, and this is the way it should be in rallies."
Adds Schlesser: "Two of my wins were very tough because I drove without a co-pilot. Then one year when I went there in I was in pain because, three months earlier, I'd broken two bones in my back during the Master Rally in Russia. The doctor said maybe I shouldn't do it, but I did and won, so that was very satisfying."
Getting under way with a super special spectator stage in Dubai on Sunday afternoon, the 2006 UAE Desert Challnge takes place under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and is sponsored by Nakheel, Dubai's premier property developer.
The, event, which doubles up as the last round of the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship is also sponsored by Nissan Middle East - the Nissan Patrol is the rally's official car -- FedEx, Castrol, Hertz UAE, Inmarsat, the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, ADNOC, and Emarat.
Most of the action takes place among the desert plains and huge dunes of the Empty Quarter, with the route centred on the bivouac at Moreeb Hill, near Liwa. But there are plenty of chances for the general public to get a close-up view of the mighty collection of cross country rally cars, trucks and bikes pouring in from around the world.
The vehicles will go on view between 9am and 5pm on Saturday at China Court, in Dubai's Ibn Battuta Mall, which is the venue for the official scrutineering.
The event roars to life at 4pm on Sunday with a spectacular 2km super special stage taking place in Umm Sequeim, close to the Burj Al Arab and Dubai Police College
The official start sends all the cars, bikes and trucks away from the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi at 9.30am on Monday for a five-day, 2,443-km passage eventually leading to the finish at Dubai International Marine Club at 4.30pm on 10th November.