DESERT CHALLENGE IS BEST YET, SAYS SULAYEM
Stars shine in "fantastic" line-up as cross country rallying world turns its attention to UAE
Dubai, UAE, 29th October, 2006: The most powerful assembly of rallying talent and machinery ever seen in the Middle East is heading for a fascinating examination in next week's UAE Desert Challenge.
Mohammed Ben Sulayem, who launched the region's most dramatic motor sport event 16 years ago, admitted today that even he is pleasantly surprised by the quality of the starting line-up as the cross country rallying world shifts its attention to the UAE.
Taking place from 5-10 November under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the event is the final round of both the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup and the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship.
"We've got a fantastic field of drivers and riders and the top cars, bike and trucks in cross country rallying today," said Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club for the UAE and chairman of the organising committee.
"When I looked over the final entry list the other day it suddenly hit me -- this is best
line-up we have ever had. It couldn't really be much better, and anybody with an interest in motor sport here has to be just as excited as I am."
Sulayem was speaking during a press conference at Dubai International Marine Club, the official headquarters for the 2006 UAE Desert Challenge, where he officially introduced the event's sponsors, and revealed an entry list of 115 competitors from 29 nations.
Speaking on behalf of Nakheel, Dubai's premier property developer and the event's main sponsor, CEO Chris O'Donnell said, "We are very happy to have formed an association with this exciting event which continues to attract global recognition for the UAE. It just gets better and better, increasing the level of exposure enjoyed by the UAE from year to year. That's obviously a key factor for Nakheel, and for our major landmark developments in Dubai such as The Palm, The World, Jumeirah Islands and Dubai Waterfront."
Also introduced at the press conference were representatives of the other event sponsors, 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.
Topping the 46-car four-wheel line-up is defending champion Stephane Peterhansel in one of three factory team Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolutions, the others driven by this year's Dakar Rally winner, Luc Alphand, and Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka.
Aiming to give Volkswagen an edge to take into the next Dakar Rally in January are former world rally champions Ari Vatanen and Carlos Sainz.
While the Mitsubishis and VWs want to dominate the podium places, the BMW X-raid team may have something to say about that. Last year's runner-up, Spain's Jose Luis Monterde, is joined by Brazil's Paulo Nobre, top Germany lady driver Jutta Kleinschmidt and Qatar's Middle East rally champion Nasser Al Attiyah in an impressive four-car bid.
Veteran challenger Jean Louis Schlesser is planning another desert charge in his familiar buggy, and with five wins in the event behind him he simply cannot be ruled out. But they are all overshadowed in 2006 World Cup terms by Russia's Sergey Shmakov, who has already clinched the drivers' crown and comes to the UAE aiming to ensure his Moscow--Zil team stay ahead of Mitsubishi and VW to take the team title.
Meanwhile, Yahya Alhelei will be looking to grab more honours for the host country. Third last year in his Liberty Rally Team Chevrolet, he goes back in action along with team-mates Ahmad Bin Suqat and Obaid Bin Hathboor.
Defending bikes world champion Marc Coma made sure this year's title race goes down to the wire for the second successive year by winning the recent Pharaoh's Rally in Egypt. Now Frenchman David Casteu must survive the UAE test to take the Spaniard's crown.
Casteu has a 24-point lead over Coma, but with 25pts available for a win the Frenchman must avoid any last round disasters to avoid seeing the world title slip from his grasp.
All of the top eight from the World Championship standings will be in action, including four-times Desert Challenge winner Cyril Despres from France, another former world champion, Norway's Pal Anders Ullevalseter, and Spain's Isidre Esteve, winner in the UAE two years ago. Khalid Khamis Ozair and Khalid Al Falasi carry UAE bikes hopes, while Mohammed Al Shamsi defends his quads title.
In the trucks category Rustam Minnikhanov, the Prime Minister of the Russian Republic of Tatarstan, returns after missing last year's event because of a broken leg. He will be going all out for a fourth Desert Challenge triumph in five years.
The public get their first chance to see the cars, bikes and trucks during scrutineering at China Court, in Dubai's Ibn Battuta Mall, from 9am to 5pm on 4th November. The following afternoon, at 4pm, a super special stage close to the Burj Al Arab and Dubai Police College provides a pulsating curtain-raiser to the event which starts officially from the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi at 9.30am on 6th November.
After five days of desert driving, much of it taking place in the spectacular Rub Al Khali or Empty Quarter, the 2,443-km trail returns the survivors to the finish at Dubai International Marine Club at 4.30pm on 10th November.
-credit: total communications