ATTIYAH EYES DESERT CHALLENGE DOUBLE TRIUMPH
Qatari gives new Dakar car rally debut as he pursues World Cup title
Dubai, UAE: Qatar's Nasser Al Attiyah will be chasing a unique double triumph in next week's UAE Desert Challenge.
The reigning FIA Middle East rally champion has confirmed that he will be going all out to become the first Arab winner of the event since 1993 and in the process clinch the drivers' title in this year's FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup.
His appearance in the event, which begins with a super special stage in Dubai on Sunday week (26th Oct), had been thrown in doubt by the switch of the Dakar Rally to Argentina and Chile next January.
But while this has forced the three main factory teams to reluctantly miss the Desert Challenge for one year owing to logistical reasons, Al Attiyah has received the go ahead to give a world rallying debut in the UAE to the new 2009 prototype edition of the BMW X3 which has been specially developed for Dakar.
He will be partnered by top Swedish lady co-driver Tina Thorner as he tries to bridge a 15-year gap to the last Arab victory in the event (www.uaedesertchallenge.com) by fellow Qatari and former Middle East rally champion, Saeed Al Hajri.
"I know Nasser would love to win the Desert Challenge and he will start as the strong favourite this time," said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club for the UAE, the rally organisers. "But he knows as well as anyone that you can't take anything for granted in this event, so it won't be easy for him."
Sponsored by Nakheel and Nissan Middle East, the Desert Challenge 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.
In last year's event, Al Attiyah looked to be in a commanding position when he built up a lead of 7 mins 20 seconds by the end of the Nakheel Special Stage 2. Then a frustrating series of mechanical problems on the next day's Nissan Special Stage 3 dropped him to fourth place, more than 24 minutes off the lead.
He fought back and looked set to leap above former world rally champion Carlos Sainz to take second place behind Stephane Peterhansel, before electrical failure shattered his bid 20kms from the end of the final Emarat Special Stage.
He trails Frenchmen Luc Alphand and Dominique Housieaux, and South African Giniel De Villiers, by four points in the World Cup standings, but with the three joint leaders absent, Al Attiyah may need only a podium finish to clinch the title.
He joins a big international line-up for the event, which is also sponsored by Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, ADNOC, Emarat, Hertz UAE, Oasis Water, Inmarsat, Arasca Medical Equipment, Mashreq Bank, Tag Heuer, FedEx, Dubai International Marine Club and Le Meridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina, the official hotel.
More than 120 cars, bikes and trucks are already starting to arrive by air, land and sea en route to assembling at the rally's HQ, Dubai International Marine Club at Mina Seyahi, for official documentation on Friday (24th October) followed by scrutineering the next day.
The rally has its ceremonial start from the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi at 9.30am on Monday week (27th October) before four demanding special stages centred on the traditional Moreeb Hill bivouac, near the Liwa oasis, and two more stages leading to the finish at Dubai International Marine Club at 4.30pm on 31st October.
-credit: nasser al attiyah