Behind the scenes at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

The men, women and partners behind the world’s ultimate desert rally


ABU DHABI (UAE). Wednesday, March 28, 2011:The ultimate desert rally, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is one of the world’s toughest cross-countryraces, but there is far more to this prestigious Middle East event than just racing. The 150 competitors registered for the 2012 edition will be backed up by a diverse range of support staff, technicians and official rally partners – the unsung heroes who make the event the success that it is.

Whether it be the small team of experts who run Race Control, the large numbers of workers whose role it is to provide a temporary home for almost 600 people amidst some of the most spectacular terrain in the world, or the potentially life-saving medical team, every member of the organiser’s support crew plays a crucial role in ensuring that the rally passes smoothly, efficiently and safely.

Now in its 22nd year, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge (30 March – 6 April) is organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE) and held under the patronage ofH.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Western Region. Crucially, the race has active support from key partners such as the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority and Nissan.

“Putting on a rally like the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is no easy task, taking many months to pull together,” explains Mohammed Ben Sulayem, FIA Vice-President, ATCUAE President and founder of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

“Setting up a fully operational base camp in the middle of the desert is a major undertaking in itself, so we are proud to be able to call upon such a dedicated and professional team who put everything into making the rally such a success. Equally none of this could happen without the major contributions from our numerous rally partners, whose input is so crucial.”

Working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that competitors complete the race as safely as possible, coordinating every car, bike, quad and helicopter out among the dunes of the stunning Western Region desert, is the small group of people who comprise the Race Control - the nerve centre of the whole operation.

Race Control has two principal functions. The first is to determine the competitors’ times and results. Via a combination of GPS tracking and stationing officials at regular checkpoints, times are recorded and verified. The timekeepers also allocate penalties to those who fail to adhere to the rules of the rally, for example racers who exceed the maximum time allowed to complete a stage.

Race Control’s other main responsibility is to track every competitor, monitoring exactly where they are and exactly when they have a problem. They do this by way of a tracking device fitted to every participating vehicle, which is monitored by a number of computers back at race control. If a racer experiences an emergency, he or she can push a red button to raise the alarm.

To guarantee a rapid response, two members of Race Control - the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief of Search and Rescue - coordinate the Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopters. Based on medical reports from competitors and officials, they prioritise the use of resources to ensure that racers can be confident of a speedy rescue if required. The Desert Challenge SAR team is recognised as being the best in the business, with an average response time of just 15 minutes.

Along with coordinating the helicopters, the on-site medical clinic as well as, if necessary, communication with local hospitals, Race Control also manages the three sweep teams that patrol the stages each day, either rushing to an emergency to provide medical assistance or picking up competitors with mechanical issues.

In 2012, the desert base, or bivouac as it is known, will once again be located near to the stunning Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara. For five days, the bivouac will be home to the competing teams, the media and the organisers. A mini-city amidst the rolling dunes of Liwa, it will contain a fully-functioning restaurant, a state-of-the-art media centre, offices, a highly-capable medical centre, dozens of tents and toilet and shower facilities.

As the countdown to the start of this year’s rally continues, the rally organiser’s dedicated operations team is bringing together the different elements required for one of the world’s largest rallying events to function. It will supervise the building of the bivouac from scratch, and oversee the day-to-day running of the site, ensuring that all residents are provided with everything they need.

Mains water and an on-site restaurant will be provided by the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, while the UAE Army will contribute portacabins and tents for participants to sleep in, as well as cranes and trucks. Ambulances, civil defence vehicles and patrol cars will be on hand courtesy of the Abu Dhabi Police, ADNOC will provide fuel for the camp’s generators and competitors’ vehicles and Nissan will provide transportation for the officials.

Away from the bivouac, other partners have an equally important role to play. The Yas Island Rotana will host a number of activities before and after the rally, while the Yas Marina Circuit will be the base for pre-race scrutineering. Al Ain Water will ensure that participants and support crew are kept hydrated throughout the gruelling event, and Abu Dhabi Aviation will provide the medical team’s helicopters. Explorer, TAG Heuer and Advanced Global Trading will assist with route maps, timekeeping and offsetting carbon emissions.

Whilst a handful of competitors will claim the headlines and glory at the 2012 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, without the support and efforts of many hundreds of others in the background, none of it would be possible.