Peterhansel, Coma lead powerful international line-up into action from UAE capital

Dubai, UAE, 9th November, 2005: The focus of the international cross country rallying world switches from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and the Empty Quarter tomorrow (Thursday) as the UAE Desert Challenge begins in earnest, with a world title at stake over the next five days.

Following this afternoon's (Wednesday) Prologue stage giving spectators a ringside view of the action at Dubai's Ibn Battuta Mall, the event starts officially from the majestic Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi at 9.30am in the morning (Thursday).

Ahead for the 123 prototype cars, modified 4WD vehicles, trucks and bikes assembled lies five days of dramatic desert driving in the penultimate round of both the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies and the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship.

Two-times Desert Challenge winner and defending Dakar Rally champion Stephane Peterhansel in a Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution and Spanish KTM star Marc Coma head the powerful line-up of drivers and riders going into action.

Peterhansel is the overwhelming favourite for his third cars victory in the UAE in four years while Coma needs only to stay clear of trouble to be crowned world bikes champion at the end of the event in Dubai next Monday.

"He has one hand on the world title but he also knows that he cannot afford to relax for one moment because a single mistake could be so costly," said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, chairman of the organising committee.

Challenge 2

Following Peterhansel away from the start in Abu Dhabi is fellow-Frenchman Ronan Chabot in a Toyota KDJ 120, Mitsubishi works team-mate Joan Roma from Spain and Abu Dhabi-based French driver Laurent Rosso in a Nissan Pathfinder.

Spain's Jose Luis Monterde at the wheel of a BMW X5 and German lady driver Ellen Lohr in a Mercedes-Benz ML 350 rally prototype getting its world debut in the UAE complete the top six.

Victory in Egypt's Pharaohs Rally last month gave Coma a powerful world championship lead but he can still be caught in the world title race by two other men going into action in the Desert Challenge, David Casteu and fellow-Frenchman Cyril Despres, the 2003 world champion and three-times winner in the UAE..

The Desert Challenge is sponsored by Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, 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.

As part of their backing for the event ADNOC and Emarat are providing thousands of gallons off fuel for the use by competitors and the small army of volunteers working behind the scenes. Meanwhile co-sponsors Oasis Water are providing more than 30,000 litres of drinking water vital for an event crossing some of the most demanding and remote desert terrain in the Middle East.

At the Liwa bivouac, which will be the rally's desert base for four nights, Al Noor Hospital in Abu Dhabi is supplying a mobile laboratory from which technicians will analyse blood samples taken from drivers and riders during the event. By measuring levels of sodium, the medical team will be able to tell whether competitors are adequately hydrated.

Challenge 3

For the first time this year teams, rally enthusiasts and the general public can follow the progress of any competitor during the course of the event by visiting the official website (www.uaedesertchallenge.com) during the event and selecting the Iritrack link.

After the official start in the UAE capital the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority special stage takes the competitors on a 283-km sweep from the outskirts of the UAE capital through the desert to Liwa.

The next three mornings bring special stages stretching out from the Moreeb Hill bivouac into the Empty Quarter before the 308-km Nissan stage takes the survivors back to the finish at Dubai International Marine Club at 4.30pm on Monday.