Meat of the real action starts with a 276.59km desert stage on Sunday


Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, Dubai-based Englishman Sam Sunderland and Kuwait’s Fahad Al-Musallam claimed the fastest times in the car, motorcycle and quad categories on the two cross-over laps of the very short super special stage of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED BY NISSAN, held at the Al-Forsan International Sports Resort, on Saturday afternoon.


Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah in action at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.


Behind the early pace-setters in their respective categories, former Czech WRC star Martin Prokop (Ford) and Russian Vladimir Vasilyev (Mini) and were second and third quickest in the cars behind Al-Attiyah’s Toyota Hilux. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi’s first competitive kilometres in his new Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR resulted in a cautious sixth.


Pablo Quintanilla


Frenchman Antoine Meo (KTM) and Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) rounded off the top three on two wheels behind Sunderland’s factory KTM. Aussie Lee Stephens pushed hard on his KTM 500 EXC to finish sixth, but is not eligible for the FIM World Championship.

Yamaha-mounted Al-Musallam, the winner of the recent Dubai International Baja’s quad section, snatched a 4.8-second lead over Dutchman Kees Koolen, while Peru’s Alexis Hernandez Ponce was third quad home.

Cars were flagged away from the start by His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al-Nahyan, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development and Chairman of the General Authority for Youth and Sports Welfare, and event founder and ATCUAE President Mohammed Ben Sulayem.

His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al-Nahyan and Mohammed Ben Sulayem flag Abu Dhabi Racing's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi from the stage start at Al-Forsan.

“It’s all systems go now for everyone for the next five days,” said Ben Sulayem. “We had a competitors’ briefing at Yas Marina this morning and our team emphasised, once again, the importance of safety and personal well being on the rally, as we head deep into some of the most beautiful desert terrain on the planet.”

Twenty-five motorcycles, 14 quads and 34 cars left the start and the honour of running first on the road for the stage was handed to the duo of Koolan and Guatemala’s Rodolfo Schippers. Quads and motorcycles ran in pairs in reverse order, although local rider Mohammed Al-Balooshi was given the task of being the first bike and moving ahead of Pablo Quintanilla for the ceremonial start on his Ride to Abu Dhabi Team KTM.

Qatar’s Mohammed Al-Meer and Khalid Al-Mohannadi were non-starters from the original entry list and Dubai-based American dentist Mike Ziegler was demoted to a national category running behind the last T3 car after homologation issues with his Toyota Prado. Saudi Arabia’s Ahmed Al-Malki, meanwhile, switched his Isuzu D-Max from T2 to the T1 category, but Colombian driver Antonio Marmolejo suffered mechanical issues and was not able to start at the 11th hour.

Seven cars started the event in the T2 category for series production cross-country vehicles and the fastest time fell to Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Saeidan in his Toyota Land Cruiser by a mere tenth of a second from the local driver Mansoor Al-Helai. Defending FIA T2 World Champion Adel Hussein finished several seconds behind in his Nissan Patrol.

First blood in the T3 section went to the Frenchman Patrice Garrouste in his Polaris RZR 100. Ahmed Al-Maqoodi, the winner of the 2016 Dubai International Rally, was second.

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is taking place under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Ruler’s representative in Al-Dafra region, and has invaluable support from Al Dafrah Region Municipality, Abu Dhabi Municipality, the UAE Army, Abu Dhabi Police, National Ambulance Service, Yas Marina Circuit, ADNOC, Abu Dhabi Aviation, Al-Ain Water, Abu Dhabi Waste Management, Rotana and Centro Hotel – Yas Island, the Qasr Al-Sarab Resort and Al-Forsan Circuit.

Tomorrow (Sunday) the real meat of the desert action gets underway with the first of five selective sections of 276.59km. The stage starts to the east of Arjan, south of Abu Dhabi, and finishes 19km to the north of Hameem on a major truck road en route to the event’s purpose-built bivouac near the remote Qasr Al Sarabdesert resort. This is situated close to the desolate Rub Al-Khali and the Saudi Arabian frontier.

2017 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge – positions after SSS (Saturday - unofficial):


1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive        1min 46.7sec

2. Martin Prokop (CZE)/Jan Tomanek (CZE) Ford F-150 Evo                          1min 51.1sec

3. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS)/Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS) Mini All4 Racing              1min 51.6sec

4. Mohammed Abu Issa (QAT)/Xavier Panseri (FRA)       Mini All4 Racing                 1min 51.7sec

5. Aron Domzala (POL)/Szymon Gospodarczyk (POL) Toyota Hilux Overdrive  1min 52.7sec

6. Khalid Al-Qassimi (ARE)/Khalid Al-Kendi (ARE) Peugeot 3008 DKR                1min 52.8sec

7. Hernan Garces (CHI)/Juan Pablo Latrach (CHI) Ford Ranger                      1min 53.2sec

8. Stephan Schott (DEU)/Andreas Schulz (DEU) Mini All4 Racing                     1min 54.2sec

8. Miroslav Zapletal (CZE)/Marek Sykora (SLO) Hummer H3 Evo VII               1min 54.2sec

10. Jürgen Schröder (DEU)/Maximilian Schröder (DEU) Nissan Navara              1min 55.3sec



1. Sam Sunderland (GBR) KTM 450 Rally Factory                                         1min 47.5sec

2. Antoine Meo (FRA)         KTM 450 Rally Factory                                               1min 48.1sec

3. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI) Husqvarna 450 Rally                                            1min 50.2sec

4. Matthias Walkner (AUT) KTM 450 Rally Factory                                       1min 50.6sec

5. Pierre Alexander Renet (FRA) Husqvarna 450 Rally                                    1min 51.3sec

6. Lee Stephens (AUS) KTM 500 EXC                                                                  1min 52.7sec

7. Paolo Gonçalves (PRT) Honda 450 CRF Rally                                           1min 52.8sec

8. Kevin Benavides (ARG) Honda 450 CRF Rally                                           1min 55.5sec

9. Mohammed Al-Balooshi (ARE) KTM 450 Rally Replica                               2min 00.7sec

10. Benjamin Melot (FRA) KTM 450 Rally Replica                                         2min 02.7sec



1. Fahad Al-Musallam (KUW)          Yamaha Raptor 700R                                       1min 49.2sec

2. Kees Koolen (NED) Barren Racer One 690                                                        1min 54.0sec

3. Alexis Hernandez Ponce (PER) Yamaha Raptor 700 R                                1min 54.8sec

4. Maxim Antimirov (KAZ) Honda TRX 700                                                 1min 56.4sec

5. Lucas Innocente (ARG) Yamaha Raptor 700 R                                         1min 57.6sec

6. Rafal Sonik (POL) Honda TRX 700                                                                  1min 57.8sec

7. Khalifa Al-Raeesi (ARE) Honda TRX 700                                                  1min 57.8sec

8. Rodolfo Schippers (GUA) Yamaha Raptor 700 R                                                1min 57.9sec


For live timing during the event:


Spectator vantage points

Sunday, April 2 – SS1 (Yas Marina Circuit)

Start SS1 - 09.00hrs  N23 46.427 E54 46.982       Turn right off truck road about 30km from Coast Highway (24 03.9 54 49.1)


PC1 – 09.30hrs         N23 41.276 E54 44.9091      10.4kms south of SS1 start close to asphalt road


PC2 – 10.20hrs         N23 35.134 E54 33.389       Bike refuel. 18km east of Hameem road, turn off 1km before new ADNOC.


PC3 – 11.15hrs         N23 20.001 E54 23.266       Close to road, 44km north of Hameem.


Underpass – 11.40hrs         N23 10.642 E54 20.147       25km north of Hameem


Finish SS1 – 12.10hrsN23 07.556 E54 18.942       19km north of Hameem


Bivouac – 12.20hrs   N23 53.057 E54 20.702       Qasr al Sarab