ALL SYSTEMS GO FOR SPECTACULAR DESERT CHALLENGE
Medical, Search and Rescue teams play key roles as UAE drivers share big stage with Sainz and other world stars
Carlos Sainz and Abdulbari Bin Sougat are poles apart when it comes to achievements in rallying, but the two-times former World Rally Champion and the Emirati driver will enjoy the same status in all but the starting order for next week's UAE Desert Challenge.
The beauty of the Desert Challenge is that it gives local enthusiasts the chance to share a big international stage with the super stars of international cross country rallying.
When Bin Sougat and co-driver Ali Mirza take their ever reliable Nissan Patrol into action in the final round of the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup, they can expect the same treatment as Sainz and the rest of the big names assembling in the UAE.
Regardless of their ranking in rallying terms, each one of the 177 drivers, co-drivers and riders from 33 countries will share equal status in the eyes of Sean Petherbridge and Angus Duthie, who will control vital behind-the-scenes operations.
The Chief Medical Officer and the head of Search and Rescue for the Desert Challenge are in charge of dedicated, highly trained teams who will provide round-the clock cover for the rally as it sweeps into one of the most desolate desert regions in the region.
While extensive safety precautions are always a priority for Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the event's creator, medical emergency are virtually inevitable, and Dr Petherbridge has this year put together arguably the best qualified medial team ever seen in a World Cup rally.
Sponsorship from Sun Microsystems and Arasca Medical Equipment have allowed him to assemble a group of ten volunteers from the UK and the UAE, each of them trained trauma doctors able to deal with any serious occurrances in the Empty Quarter.
"They're all capable of thinking on their feet and dealing with just about any sort of medical emergency that can happen in an event of this nature," said Petherbridge.
The medical team will work in harmony with Duthie and his nine-man Search and Rescue team at the Moreeb Hill bivouac, the rally's desert base near Liwa.
They will be on permanent standby to board five helicopters ready to go to aid of competitors who run into trouble, providing on-the-spot treatment, and if necessary transport them back to the bivouac medical centre, or to hospitals in Abu Dhabi.
"The medical team, the Search and Rescue guys, and the helicopter crews all play crucial roles in the staging of the Desert Challenge," said Sulayem, President of the Emirates Automobile and Touring Club, the rally organisers.
"They bring a very high level of professionalism and dedication to what is a very sophisticated safety operation. Without them there is no way that the event could begin."
While Sainz tries to give Volkswagen the edge over the Mitsubishi trio of Luc Alphand, Stephane Peterhansel and Joan "Nani" Roma, and Bruno Saby aims for a similar breakthrough for BMW, others will be content to complete the 2,210-km route.
That is certainly the main target for Abdulbari Bin Sougat at the wheel of the Nissan Patrol which carried his brother Ahmad to a UAE national rally title in 1999.
"I'm proud to be taking part in the Desert Challenge because it's one of the biggest events of its kind in the world," he said. "I did it for the first time in 1995 and finished tenth overall, and last year I was co-driver for Ahmad."
While the Sougat brothers just missed out on a top ten spot 12 months ago, both Ahmad and his Liberty team-mate Yahya Alhelei are aiming to make it there this time while Abdulbari hopes some aerodynamic changes to his Nissan Patrol will boost his challenge.
WHERE TO WATCH THE UAE DESERT CHALLENGE
While fervent rally followers will relish a journey to Moreeb Hill, the rally's desert base near Liwa, the general public can also catch up with this spectacular event and sample the atmosphere much closer to home, as follows:
Scrutineering, 27th October, Dubai International Marine Club, 9am-5pm
Super Special Stage, 28th October, near the Burj Al Arab, at the Junction. Al Wasl Rd / Umm Sequeim, opposite Dubai Police College, 4pm
Official Rally Start, 29th October, Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi Corniche 9:30am
Official Rally Finish, 2nd November, Dubai International Marine Club, 4:30pm