DESERT CHALLENGE SETS PACE IN RALLY WORLD CUP
Event organisers from South Africa, China in UAE to see how top FIA event is run
Dubai, UAE, 6th November 2005: The UAE Desert Challenge has been singled out by the FIA, motor sport's world governing body, as the event that sets the standard for the Cross Country Rally World Cup.
On the FIA's recommendation, organisers of events in South Africa and China will be in the UAE this week to see how a top World Cup rally is run, starting with Wednesday afternoon's Prologue stage for spectators beside Dubai's Ibn Battuta Mall.
At a meeting in Paris on Friday the FIA's World Cup rallies commission added South Africa to the 2006 World Cup calendar, and China is hoping to join the series in the near future.
"The FIA has advised the rally organisers in South Africa and China to come here this week to see how the Desert Challenge is put together, and we're very happy to have them with us," said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, driving force behind the event which he launched in 1991.
"It's taken a huge team effort over the years to give the Desert Challenge the reputation it enjoys and everyone involved in the event should be proud of their efforts."
With Wednesday afternoon's Prologue giving spectators a ringside seat as 123 cars, bike and tracks tackle at pulsating time trial starting at 4pm, the big test begins the following morning in Abu Dhabi.
After the official start beside the Emirates Palace Hotel at 9.30am the opening 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, the rally's desert base, into the Empty Quarter, before the 308-km Nissan stage takes the survivors back to the finish at Dubai International Marine Club on Monday (14th November).
The event 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.
No driver knows the challenging conditions that lie ahead better than the UAE's Saeed Al Hameli, whose job as an oil company safety operator in Liwa has taken him across countless thousands of miles of desert terrain.
"I've been driving in the desert down here for more than 20 years so I know it like the back of my hand," said Hameli, who will be partnered by Ahmad Malik when he takes his trusty Nissan Patrol into the Desert Challenge for the fifth time.
"I've tested a couple of other vehicles but they couldn't match the Patrol which is so solid and easy to handle," said Hameil. "My aim will be to be first in the production class and first GCC driver, but I've got a lot of competition, especially from the Liberty Team who have three cars in the rally and will be tough to beat."
Driving Chetrolet Pick Ups, the Liberty trio of Ahmed Bin Suqat, Yahya AlHeli and Obaid Bin Hathboor are seeded seventh, 11th and 13th among the 40-vehicle cars entry and all will be looking for top-ten finishes as well as production class success.
Meanwhile, South Africa takes its place in next year's World Cup series alongside the UAE, Argentina, Turkey, Tunisia and another new event linking Spain and Portugal. This follows Friday's FIA cross country rallies commission meeting in Paris when Egypt and Morocco were provisionally omitted from the series.
The decision to reduce the World Cup calendar from eight to six events was made to make the series more attractive to the major manufacturers such as Mitsubishi, Volkswagen and BMW.
The manufacturers have been asked to confirm in writing by 15th Nov that they will commit to the full six rounds next year. But if that undertaking is not forthcoming the manufacturers championship will be dropped and the events in Morocco and Egypt will be reinstated.