Norwegian Star Set To Clinch World Bikes Title in UAE Desert Challenge
Ullevålseter on course for championship triumph as victory in Egypt gives him near unassailable lead
Dubai, UAE, 7 October 2004: Norway's Pål Anders Ullevålseter looks set to install himself as the new world bikes champion of cross country rallying in next week's UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge.
Ullevålseter has taken an almost unassailable lead in the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship following his victory in the Pharaohs' Rally in Egypt and is now poised to snatch the world crown secured by Frenchman Cyril Despres with his win in the UAE last year.
It would take a major failure for the Norwegian in the Desert Challenge next week, and another disaster in the final round of the series in Argentina, to let in Poland's Jacek Czachor or Spain's Marc Coma.
Despres confirmed that his reign as world champion is over, at least for another year, when he withdrew from the Desert Challenge following the tragic death of his team-mate, Frenchman Richard Sainct, in the Pharaohs' Rally last weekend.
The loss of Sainct, which has been mourned by competitors and rallying fans around the world, totally overshadowed Ullevålseter's win in Egypt and brought shock and sadness in the UAE.
"Richard was a great rider, a great champion, a good friend of our event, and a personal friend of mine," said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, chairman of the organising committee for the Desert Challenge. "Everyone here has their own special memories of him, and he will be very badly missed."
The Desert Challenge will be given a big send-off in Dubai at 4pm on Sunday afternoon
when the event's spectacular curtain-raiser, the Nakheel Prologue stage, roars to life at Jebel Ali Racecourse. Admission is free, and spectators will have a ringside seat as 131 cars, bikes and trucks negotiate a twisting 2km course to decide the order for the official start at the Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi at 9.30am on Monday morning.
From the UAE capital the powerful assembly of prototypes cars, modified 4WD vehicles and other machinery head for five days of tough desert driving on the edge of the Empty Quarter. For four nights the rally will be based at the Moreeb Hill bivouac, the desert camp site close to the Liwa oasis, before the survivors reach the finish at Dubai International Marine Club next Friday (October 15) at 4.30pm.
After two successive Desert Challenge cars victories, French ace Stephane Peterhansel is the red hot favourite to make it three in a row, although his Mitsubishi team-mate from Japan, Hiroshi Masuoka, has his eye on a first win in the UAE.
Former world rally champion Colin McRae is not expecting to end Peterhansel's reign on his first attempt at the event, although the Scot and his Belgian team-mate Gregoire De Mevius could both mount strong challenges in their impressive Nissan Pick-Ups.
The Desert Challenge is 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 is 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, Konica Document Solutions, website designers ANLONITS, What's On, 7 Days, as well as Dubai International Marine Club and Le Meridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina.