This is a special FIA category for all-terrain vehicles with near-standard engines and limited modifications from the type of machine you would normally see in dealer showrooms.
In recent years Arab drivers have achieved some excellent results in the UAE Desert Challenge. The most notable success story has been the Dubai competitor Mohammad Mattar, twice an outright winner of the Cars section in 1991 and 1992 at the wheel of a Land Rover, before the event became the final round of the FIA World Cup. Mattar has since switched to competing on two wheels and has set several competitive stage times in recent seasons.
Dubai-based Yayha Bilhili is also one of the leading local competitors in the UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge. A four-wheel drive enthusiast, Bilhili has an impressive record over the sands of the UAE and has been a consistent performer for 10 years. He finished third overall in 1992 in a Nissan Patrol, but maintained that form against world class drivers once the event became a round of the World Championship in 1993. He finished fifth in 1996 in a T1 Nissan Patrol, against the might of the Mitsubishi and Schlesser factory teams and repeated that result the following two seasons, beating former French Formula One Grand Prix star Phillipe Alliott by 18 minutes in 1997. Bilhili's finest performance was arguably fifth overall in 1998, when he and co-driver Wael Marajn beat Spanish World Championship driver Josep-Marie Servia by 29 minutes and were only beaten themselves by four factory teams, with the calibre of drivers such as Jean-Pierre Fontenay, Jean-Louis Schlesser, Kenjiro Shinozuka and Jutta Kleinschmidt; all four of whom have achieved optimum success in the gruelling Paris-Dakar Rally.
Two of the finest one-off performances by Arab drivers in the UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge occurred in 1993 and 1994. Twice former FIA Middle East rally champion Saeed Al-Hajri, from Qatar, took part in 1993 with the Mitsubishi team and emerged victorious with the experienced French co-driver Henri Magne. He beat former world champions Pierre Lartigue and Timo Salonen on that occasion.
The following year it was the turn of another former Middle East rally champion, Abdullah Bakhashab, from Saudi Arabia. Abdullah and co-driver Bobby Willis, who are now tackling the FIA World Rally Championship, finished second overall in a T1 Marlboro Range Rover and beat the highly-rated French driver Thierry de Lavergne and this year's Paris-Dakar winner Jutta Kleinschmidt. The Saudi was beaten only by multiple World Champion Jean-Louis Schlesser.
The UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge 2001 is set to attract many of the world's leading endurance and off-road racers to the sands of the UAE, competitors attracted by the warm Arabic welcome and hospitality of the local people, stunning desert terrain throughout the ambitious five-day route and the challenge of competing in one of the world's leading off-road rallies.
Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser will lead the bumper international entry of bikes, cars and trucks into the UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge,Schlesser, a former Formula One Grand Prix racing driver and World Sportscar champion, is also the defending FIA World Cross Country champion and has won the UAE's first world status motorsport event on a record four occasions, taking his first victory back in 1994 at the wheel of a single-seater T3 Buggy.
Fellow Frenchman Jean-Pierre Fontenay has been a factory driver for the Mitsubishi team for many years and took victory in 1998 with co-driver Gilles Picard in a Pajero. A determined competitor, with considerable experience on rallies such as the Paris-Dakar and Masters Rally, Jean-Pierre is one member of the strong Mitsubishi Ralliart team entering the UAE Desert Challenge this year.
The organisers of the UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge have introduced a new 'National Category' to attract a larger number of Arab nationals and expatriate competitors. This new class will regroup all non-homologated cars and allow us to attract a greater number of local drivers," said Mohammed ben Sulayem, chairman of the organising commitee.