DESERT CHALLENGE SETS PACE IN WORLD CUP
Sulayem says Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority will help drive rally to new heights
Dubai, UAE, 31 October 2005: The UAE Desert Challenge will continue to set the highest standards for international cross country rallying in the years ahead, Mohammed Ben Sulayem said today as he looked forward to next month's 15th edition of the Middle East's double world championship motor sport event.
Sulayem, chairman of the organising committee, made the pledge while formally introducing Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority as a new sponsor of the Desert Challenge during an official press conference at Dubai International Marine Club, the rally's permanent HQ.
It was during the pre-event press conference 12 months ago that Sulayem announced a major investment in technology which resulted in the Desert Challenge setting new standards in competitor safety.
The innovative tracking system introduced last year to provide a new level of security for competitors was so successful that it has since been adopted by all other events in the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup, and by the Dakar Rally.
"The Iritrack system was used in full for the first time in last year's Desert Challenge," said Sulayem. "It allows us to monitor the progress of every competitor as they cross the most remote areas and we're working with the designers to develop it further."
"While competitor safety remains a major priority, we'll continue to seek new ways to develop the event and it's vital that we enjoy the backing of sponsors such as Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority who want to see the rally grow and set the highest standards."
The UAE Desert Challenge is also sponsored by Nissan Middle East - with the Nissan Patrol the rally's official car - Dubai Waterfront, an 81 million square metre development by Nakheel, Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, ADNOC, Emarat and Inmarsat, providers of satellite communications.
The Desert Challenge is co-sponsored by Oasis Water, Al Noor Hospital, Konica Minolta, ANLONITS, Messina Line and Le Meridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina, the official hotel.
Using the advanced satellite communications platform provided by Inmarsat, the Iritrack system is a complete onboard method of tracking by satellite with world coverage. Fitted on every car, bike and truck, it works in the most remote areas on earth and is a vital breakthrough for organisers of cross country rallies.
Competitors plot their course using GPS equipment which guides them between set positions on the route. Until recently cross country rally vehicles were fitted with "beacon" devices which had to be set off if a competitor got lost or injured.
Rescue teams homing in on the signal then flew or drove to their aid. But the system broke down if an injured competitor was unable to turn on the device, and search teams could spend hours locating them. "We can now follow competitors every inch of the way, and our rally control team can see if someone is getting lost or running into trouble, and use a direct voice link to talk to them," said Sulayem.
"We also have built-in systems which automatically tell us if someone gets into trouble and needs assistance. We can immediately send out a rescue team instead of waiting for a beacon to be set off." The saving in time and rescue resource is significant and can be crucial in an emergency.
For the first time this year teams, rally enthusiasts and the general public will be able to follow the progress of any competitor by visiting the official website (www.uaedesertchallenge.com) during the event and selecting the Iritrack link.
French star Stephane Peterhansel, winner of the Desert Challenge in 2002 and 2003 and backed by two successive Dakar Rally triumphs, heads a line-up of 156 competitors from 27 nations now making final preparations for the 2005 UAE Desert Challenge.
He is joined in the 40-car entry by his team-mate, Spain's Joan 'Nani' Roma, who finished fourth in two previous World Cup rounds in Argentina and Morocco and drives
a second works Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution.
While Peterhansel starts as the red hot favourite to make it three Desert Challenge victories in four years, his first-day mechanical disaster last year is a reminder of how the event can trip up even the best prepared competitors.
A succession of Arab drivers will be waiting to capitalise on any mistakes and the international flavour of the event is emphasised by the appearance of challengers such as Japan's Shigeo Okawa, German lady driver Andrea Mayer in a Nissan Pathfinder, Russia's Sergey Reshetnikov and Lebanon's Bernard Nawfal in a Nissan Patrol.
Spain's Marc Coma, the Cross Country Rallies World Championship leader, must avoid any major last round mistakes to keep out French challengers David Casteu and Cyril Despres. While his reign as world champion ends in the UAE, Norway's Pål Anders Ullevålseter will be chasing victory in the Desert Challenge along with last year's runner-up, Poland's Marek Dabrowski in a field of 76 riders.
Carrying UAE hopes will be Khaled Khamis Mustafa Hussain, Ahmed Al Fahim, Sharif Al Dabboos and Mohammed Al Suwaidi. Meanwhile UAE-based Tim Trenker, Steve Blackney and Sean Linton all look to build on their top-ten places last year while Dave McBride, second behind Despres four years ago, wants to forget his non-finish last year.
But the host country's best chance of a victory could lie in the quads category, with last year's runaway winner, Atif Zarouni, defending his title against world championship leader Ricardo Leal Dos Santos of Portugal and Frenchman Jean Phillippe Caillet, the only other rider who can snatch this year's world title.
Once again, motor sport enthusiasts and the general public will be able to get a close-up view of the mighty international force of 4WD cars, trucks and bikes before they head out into the giant dunes and sabka plains of the Empty Quarter.
On Tuesday 8th November another of Nakheel's developments, Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai, will be the venue for scrutineering, when intensive checks are carried out on all vehicles to ensure they are mechanically sound and comply with official regulations.
At 4pm the following afternoon the Prologue, a super special spectator stage, takes place on a twisting route built especially for the occasion beside Ibn Battuta Mall.
At 9.30am on Thursday 10th November the 2005 UAE Desert Challenge officially gets under way in Abu Dhabi, with each of the competitors being flagged away from the start ramp beside the magnificent Emirates Palace hotel.
From there the competitors make their way outside the capital to the start of the first of the competitive special stages which finishes close to the bivouac, the desert camp site near the Liwa oasis which will be the rally's base for four nights. Each of the next three days' special stages starts and finishes at the bivouac before the final stage takes the survivors back to Dubai on Monday 14th November for a 4.30pm finish at Dubai International Marine Club.