Masuoka, Esteve Celebrate Uae Desert Challenge Victories

Affer spectacular cross country rallying adventure 33 cars, 59 bikes and five trucks cross finish ramp in Dubai

Dubai, UAE, 15 October 2004: The world cross country rallying circuit heads for its climax in Argentina next month with one major issue still to be formally resolved after the UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge finished in Dubai today (Friday).

Japan's Hiroshi Masouka in a Mitsubishi Pajero Montero and Spain's Isidre Esteve on a KTM crossed the finish ramp at Dubai International Marine Club today to confirm their victories in an event doubling up as the penultimate round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and trucks, and the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes.

While third place in the bikes event clinched the world title for Norwegian rider Pål Anders Ullevålseter, third place in the cars battle behind Masuoka and the Nissan Pick-up of Belgium's Gregoire De Mevius has left the UAE's Khalifa Al Mutaiwie as a world champion elect still waiting to be crowned.

This now seems a formality to be completed in Argentina, as De Mevius, Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel and Portugal's Carlos Sousa, the only drivers who could mathematically overhaul Al Mutaiwie's BMW X5, are not scheduled to travel to South America to compete.

The Desert Challenge effectively ended as a contest on Thursday night after Mohammed Ben Sulayem, chairman of the organising committee, cancelled today's scheduled final two special stages in view of the advent of the Holy Month of Ramadan.

At the finish, Sulayem said: "There are some major changes planned in international cross country rallying, and we're ready to match any new requirements laid down by the FIA or by the major manufacturers to make help the sport go from strength to strength."

Challenge finish 2

The Desert Challenge was held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and H.H. General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Minister of Defence of the UAE.

The event was co-sponsored by Nissan, official vehicle supplier to the organisers, Nakheel, Abu Dhabi Aviation, the Government of Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, Emarat, ADNOC, Messina Line, Oasis Pure Drinking Water, Inmarsat, providers of satellite communications, Gulf Agency Company, Konica Document Solutions, website designers ANLONITS, What's On, 7 Days, as well as Dubai International Marine Club and Le Meridian Mina Selah Beach Resort and Marina.

Competitors still had to travel 360-km by road today from the Moreeb Hill bivouac - the rally's desert base for four nights - and cross the finish ramp in Dubai to officially complete the event.

Following Masuoka, De Mevius and Al Mutaiwie over the finish line in fourth place was four-times World Rally Champion Juha Kankkunen of Finland who got stuck on the final stage in his Volkswagen Touareg, losing roughly one hour.

His Volkswagen team-mate, Frenchman Bruno Saby, also got stuck in the sand, and after using shovels and sand ladders to free the car he was finally beaten by a defective starter. Finishing eighth overall in a Nissan Pathfinder, Frenchman Laurent Rosso won the T1 productions class.

Rustam Minnikhanov, the Prime Minister of the Russian Republic of Tatarstan, again left behind the world of politics to complete a hat-trick of victories in the Trucks category in one of three vehicles entered by the official Kamaz factory team. Out of 123 starters, 33 cars, 59 bikes and five trucks finished the event.

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