Dubai: Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi is targeting a World Cup hat-trick in the UAE next week as he looks for victory on his first appearance in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Powered by Nissan.
Al Rajhi leads the 2014 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies after triumphing in each of the two opening rounds, and he is determined to extend the winning sequence when he tackles the huge dunes and sabkha plains of the UAE’s Western Region of Al Garbia for the first time.
To do that he will have to beat a world-class field that includes defending Desert Challenge champion and this year’s Dakar Rally winner, Nani Roma, as well as a host of other drivers with far more desert rally experience than the Saudi.
Al Rajhi, who is attempting to become only the fourth Arab driver to win the event since it was launched in 1991, knows he faces a huge task, but believes German co-driver Timo Gottschalk can help him grab the cars title in his Hummer Prototype.
“I think I have the talent and the speed needed to win it,” he said. “We’re up against Nani Roma, who is a very fast driver, and we’ll need to push him.
“I don’t have a lot of experience in the desert, but I have a good feeling for it. I know there are a lot of very big dunes and soft sand in this event, and a lot of surprises. You need a good feeling to get through and not get stuck.”
“I know we can do it. I have a good car, my co-driver is at a very high level and I have a good team. They’ve helped me a lot in the first two rounds, and my co-driver’s experience will be important.”
He is taking on a big mission. Mohammad Bin Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE), the rally organisers, and FIA Vice-President, said: “You need a combination of great driving skills, desert know-how, a lot of courage, and a fair share of good luck to win the Desert Challenge. If you lose concentration for a moment, your chance is gone.”
Taking place under the patronage of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Western Region, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge will be a huge contrast to the snow and ice Al Rajhi encountered in this season’s opening World Cup event in Russia, and the gravel he faced in round two in Italy.
He had hoped to warm up for the Desert Challenge by winning Saudi Arabia’s Ha’il International Rally last week but went out on the second stage with a blown engine while leading.
Also contesting this year’s FIA Middle East Rally Championship as well a full WRC2 programme, Al Rajhi is bidding to become the first Arab winner of the Desert Challenge since Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah in 2008.
The only two other previous Arab winners were the UAE’s Mohammad Mattar in 1991 and 1992, and Qatar’s Saeed Al Hajri in 1993.
The 24th edition of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, which has attracted a line-up of 108 drivers and riders from 32 countries, is also the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes.
The event starts with a super special spectator stage on Yas Island on Saturday and finishes there on April 10.
FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies – positions after Round 2
1. Yazeed Al Rajhi (SAU) 60pts
2. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS) 33pts
3. Boris Gadasin (RUS) 27pts
4. Marek Dabrowski (POL) 26pts
5. Reinaldo Varela (BRA) 22pts
6. Martin Kaczmarksi (POL) 20pts