Superstars Can Learn From Arab Drivers, Says McRae in UAE Desert Challenge Countdown

Shanfari carries Oman's hopes as Liberty team drivers aim again for top-ten finishes on big World Cup stage

Dubai, UAE, 2 September 2004: The chances of an Arab victory in next week's UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge may be slim, but Colin McRae says the superstars of cross country rallying can still learn a lot from the Middle East's top local drivers

McRae joins another former world rally champion, Juha Kankkunen, and other leading challengers like Bruno Saby, Hiroshi Masuoka, Jutta Kleinschmidt, Dominique Housieaux, and Gregoire De Mevius who will all be trying to prevent a third successive cars victory in the UAE by French star Stephane Peterhansel

But while the presence of the mighty Nissan, Volkswagen and Mitsubishi works teams piles the odds on an overseas driver winning again, McRae believes there is no substitute for local knowledge which could again help Arab drivers share the limelight.

"From what I know there are more sand crossings in the Desert Challenge than in the Dakar Rally, so it will be a very tricky event for me," he said in the countdown the penultimate round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies from October 11-15.

"We'll be going for the best result possible but it won't be easy, and the local drivers will have a much better idea of where they're going than I will."

Partnered by Swedish lady co-driver Tina Thorner in a powerful Nissan Pick-up, a combination that won two stages of this year's Dakar Rally, McRae has enormous respect for Arab driving skills as a result of his friendship with Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the 14-times Middle East champion and Desert Challenge organiser.

While no Arab driver is every likely to challenge Sulayem's record of more than 60 international rally victories, the event he has taken into cross country rallying's World Cup for cars, and World Championship for bikes, now provides a big international stage for the Middle East's leading drivers and riders, and a chance to claim some impressive scalps.

The UAE's Khalifa Al Mutaiwei leads the World Cup standings with two rounds remaining, and fellow-UAE drivers Obaid Bin Hathboor and Yahya Al Helei in Liberty Team Chevrolet Pick-ups, and Saeed Al Hameli in a Nissan Patrol, are aiming to build on their top-ten finishes last year.

Carrying the Sultanate of Oman's Desert Challenge hopes, former Middle East Group N champion Nizar Al Shanfari teams up in a Dubai Speed Club Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution with David Mitri and aims to match his best finish of 12th position in four previous attempts.

"It's a beautiful event and I do it for fun, "said Shanfari, who embarks on a full Middle East Rally Championship programme next year after two years in the Oman national series. "The year before last I was running sixth or seventh on the first day when my engine blew."

The Desert Challenge 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.

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.