VATANEN, SAINZ TURN ON POWER FOR DESERT CHALLENGE
Rally legends aim to give VW World Cup edge over Mitsubishi
Dubai, UAE, 21st October, 2006: Ari Vatanen and Carlos Sainz, two of the greatest names in rallying history, are heading for a dramatic UAE Desert Challenge showdown with Stephane Peterhansel next month.
Flying Finn Vatanan and Spanish star Sainz, with three World Rally Championships and a multitude of worldwide victories between them, want to hand the Volkswagen factory team a big win over fierce Mitsubishi rival Peterhansel and stable mates Luc Alphand and Hiroshi Masuoka.
It promises to be the most spectacular encounter in the 16-year history of the Desert Challenge as the two major forces in the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup chase a big psychological advantage to carry into the Dakar Rally in January.
Vatanen will be partnered by Italian co-driver Fabrizia Pons and Sainz by Frenchman Michel Perin as the two VW Race Touareg 2 prototypes take on the trio of Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolutions of Peterhansel - winner of the Desert Challenge three times, and the Dakar Rally twice -- Alphand and Masuoka, 2004 winner in the UAE.
While Vatanen will be hoping for a happy return to the UAE where he won the Desert Challenge with Citroen in 1997, Sainz will be making his competitive debut in the Middle East, and Mohammed Ben Sulayem is relishing a reunion with both.
"It will be great to see Ari back in action here, and I'm thrilled that Carlos is doing the event for the first time," said Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club for the UAE and chairman of the organising committee.
"I first met Carlos in 1987 when we competed in the Asturias Rally in Spain, before he entered the World Championship scene.
"When I started my Group N World Championship programme in 1992 we used to practice together and became great friends. Ever since then I've been hoping that he would come to the UAE to compete."
Held under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the 2006 UAE Desert Challenge is sponsored by Nakheel, the premier property developer behind Dubai's most spectacular projects.
The event is also sponsored by Nissan Middle East - with the Nissan Patrol the rally's official car -- FedEx, Castrol, Hertz UAE, ADNOC, and Emarat.
Vatanen is a rallying legend, having won the Drivers World Championship in 1981, the Dakar Rally four times, and scored a long list of WRC and FIA World Cup victories in a brilliant career.
That career, and Vatanen's life, were almost cut short in 1985 by an accident during the Argentinean Rally. It left him close to death, and he spent 18 months battling serious injury and depression heightened by the fear that he had contracted AIDS.
On his return to action in 1987 he won the Dakar Rally, while the following year he was again at the centre of drama when his car was stolen while leading the event.
Sainz, the 1990 and 1992 World Rally Champion, has a career haul of 26 WRC victories.
He becomes the fourth former World Rally Champion to compete in the Desert Challenge following Vatanen, Juha Kankkunen and Colin McRae.
While the battle between Volkswagen, the defending champions, and Mitsubishi, will decide this year's FIA World Cup manufacturers' team title, the drivers crown has already been secured by Russian Sergey Shmakov, winner of the previous round in Egypt.
Competing alongside the Volkswagen factory team in the Desert Challenge is the Portuguese Team Lagos pairing of Carlos Sousa and German co-driver Andreas Schulz in another Race Touareg 2.
With a final starting line-up expected to feature more than 120 cars, bikes and trucks from 30 countries, the public get their first chance to see the might assembly of machinery during official scrutineering, at China Court, in Dubai's Ibn Battuta Mall, from 9am to 5pm on 4th November.
At 4pm the following afternoon a super special stage close to the Burj Al Arab and Dubai Police College provides a pulsating curtain-raiser to the event which starts officially from the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi at 9.30am on 6th November.
At the end of five days of demanding desert driving, much of it taking place in the spectacular Rub Al Khali or Empty Quarter, the 2,443-km trail returns the survivors to the finish at Dubai International Marine Club at 4.30pm on 10th November.
Rally enthusiasts and the general public will be able to follow the progress of any competitor by visiting the official website (www.uaedesertchallenge.com) during the event and selecting the Iritrack link.
-credit: Total Communications