Abu Dhabi: The stage is set for a big week of world-class rally action in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Powered By Nissan, which starts on Saturday.
The 24th edition of the Middle East’s first world championship motorsport event begins with a power-packed, super-special spectator stage sending 108 drivers and riders from 32 countries into action over a twisting 2km circuit on Yas Island starting at 3pm.
The following morning the international procession of cars, bikes and quads set off on the 290km Yas Marina Circuit special stage, the first of five demanding desert sections which carve a spectacular route among the giant dunes of the UAE’s Western Region of Al Garbia.
The next three days bring the ADNOC (269km), Qasr Al Sarab (256km) and Nissan Patrol (239km) special stages, all centred on the desert bivouac, before the 244km Abu Dhabi Aviation stage takes them back to the finish on Yas Island next Thursday.
The Desert Challenge is the third round of the 2014 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars, and the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes.
The size and quality of the entry list underlines the event’s status in the world of off road rallying.
“This is an event that everyone in the sport wants to win,” said Mohammad Bin Sulayem, President of rally organisers the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, and FIA Vice-President.
“The desert of the Western Region has some of the most spectacular terrain on earth, and everyone who takes part has a fantastic experience. To finish the event is an achievement, and this is a true test even for the top professional drivers and riders.”
Last year, Spain’s Nani Roma scored his first Desert Challenge success when he won the cars class for the first time, while fellow-countryman Marc Coma captured his seventh bikes crown. Both have returned to the UAE as reigning Dakar Rally champions and will be looking to write their names into the record books again next week.
Since the Desert Challenge was launched in 1991, Jean-Louis Schlesser is the only driver to have scored back-to-back victories in the event with a Dakar Rally win sandwiched in between, managing the feat in 1999 and 2000. Coma achieved the same distinction on his KTM in 2010 and 2011.
The event is being held under the patronage of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Western Region.