DESERT CHALLENGE SETS STAGE FOR CLASSIC BATTLE
It doesn't get much better than this, says Sulayem as world cross country rallying spotlight falls on UAE
The 17th edition of the UAE Desert Challenge promises a spectacular climax to the international cross country rally calendar later this month, with a mighty line-up of cars, bikes and trucks assembling from the Middle East and overseas.
Introducing the event's sponsors today during an official press conference at Dubai International Marine Club, the rally's official HQ, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Emirates Automobile and Touring Club, announced an entry list featuring 177 drivers, co-drivers and riders from 33 countries.
It is headed by former world downhill skiing champion Luc Alphand of France who powered his Mitsubishi Evolution to an impressive first victory in the UAE last year, and Spain's Marc Coma who captured the bikes title on a KTM to retain his world crown.
Getting under way with a super special spectator stage in Dubai on 28th October, the UAE Desert Challenge www.uaedesertchallenge.com is held 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 for cars and trucks, and the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes.
"We're looking forward to a classic desert rally with competitors from the UAE and other parts of the Gulf sharing the stage with most of the top drivers and riders in the world," said Sulayem. "It doesn't get much better than this, and as an organisation we're grateful to the government authorities in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and to our sponsors, for allowing us to continue to set the standard in international cross country rallying."
Chris O'Donnell, CEO of Nakheel, Dubai's premier property developer and the event's main sponsor, said: "We are delighted to be the title sponsor of the Desert Challenge for a third consecutive year. The event attracts a large global audience and helps raise the profile of the UAE as a destination. It therefore fits well with Nakheel; our projects are transforming the map of Dubai, attracting widespread international attention, and are a fundamental part of the vision to make Dubai a leading business and tourism destination."
For a fourth year, Nissan is a main sponsor of the event and the Nissan Patrol is the rally's official car. Toru Hasegawa, Managing Director of Nissan Middle East, said: "We are happy to extend our commitment to the Desert Challenge as we're confident that the event will go from strength to strength in the future."
A fleet of Nissan Patrols have played a key role in the preparation of the route which cuts through the notoriously tough desert terrain of the Empty Quarter. New Zealander Glen Reid and Qatar's former Middle East rally champion Sheikh Hamad Al Thani are among those taking Nissan Patrols into action in the event.
Also introduced at the press conference were representatives of the other event sponsors,
Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, ADNOC, Emarat, Hertz UAE, Oasis, Inmarsat, Dubai International Marine Club and Le Meridien Mina Seyahi, the official hotel.
Topping the 50 vehicle four-wheel line-up is Alphand, with three-times winner Stephane Peterhansel and Spain's Joan "Nani" Roma driving the other two official Mitsubishi Pajero Evolutions which must start as favourites to claim victory.
But the competition is fierce, and former World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz wants to help Volkswagen make a breakthrough in the UAE. Sainz was fastest on three out of six special stages on his Desert Challenge debut last year and returns with strong support from team-mates Giniel de Villers, Dieter Depping and Carlos Sousa.
Making a welcome return to an event he won in 1996 is French star Bruno Saby who replaces Colin McRae, the former World Rally Champion who was killed tragically in a recent helicopter crash which shocked the rallying world.
Saby, the 1993 Dakar Rally winner, takes the wheel of one of two BMW X3CCs entered by the X-Raid team, the other to be driven by Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah. Both vehicles are expected to carry images of McRae, who competed in the UAE in 2004 and had been looking forward to making his second appearance in the event.
Veteran challenger Jean Louis Schlesser, with five Desert Challenge victories to his name, is hoping for another, although this time he sits out the rally while Spain's Jose Luis Monterde, runner up two years ago, takes the wheel of the familiar Schlesser buggy. While the foreign challenge is as strong as ever, local interest is high and the UAE's Yahya Alhelei and Ahmad Bin Suqat look to extend their run of fine performances on the World Cup stage.
On two wheels it is difficult to look beyond Coma who has dominated this year's FIM World Championship with four wins in five events. But with Frenchman David Casteu heading a chasing pack of 73 other riders, the result is certainly not a foregone conclusion.
The same can be said for both the trucks and quads, although Rustam Minnikhanov, the Prime Minister of the Russian Republic of Tatarstan, is the overwhelming favourite to take his Kamaz truck to a fifth win in six years while the UAE's Atif Al Zarouni pursues a third quads title in four years.
After the super special spectator stage on 28th October, the Desert Challenge starts officially from the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi at 9.30am the following day. It finishes at Dubai International Marine Club at 4.30pm on 2nd November at the end of a 2,210-km trail.
Caption: Mohammed Ben Sulayem (6th from right) addresses the media at the official press conference along with representatives of the event's sponsors.
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