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Flying Start for Abu Dhabi Aviation Leg As Desert Challenge Competitors Target Finishing Line

ABU DHABI (UAE). Thursday, April 5, 2012:The 2012 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge draws to a close today (Friday, April 6), as the international field races north from the Empty Quarter desert and back to the capital for the ceremonial finish next to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Yacht Club at 4.30pm.

Over five gruelling days, overcoming exhaustion, dehydration and their own mental battles, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge competitors have tackled some of the toughest terrain on the planet – the massive sand dunes of the Empty Quarter desert of the Western Region. Today, the deserving winners of the car, bike and quad categories will finally be known.

The 287-kilometre Abu Dhabi Aviationleg is named after the organisation that provides the most critical service of the entire rally – the aerial Search And Rescue (SAR) support – and will end what has been a spectacular opening round of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship and second round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.

The 2012 edition of the rally marks Abu Dhabi Aviation’s first year as sole provider of aircraft, pilots and logistical assistance to the Desert Challenge. The company is the Middle East’s largest commercial helicopter operator, and four of those helicopters are in action at the rally – three with the SAR teams and one with the TV crew whose amazing footage is being broadcast around the world daily.

The company is providing the potentially life-saving SAR service for the medical crews who, typically, are called to the assistance of more than 10% of all entrants during the course of the race. This year, for the very first time, Abu Dhabi Aviation has also arranged for the helicopters to refuel at the Madinat Zayed hospital, ensuring the whole SAR operation runs far more quickly and smoothly.

“The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is a true test of an individual’s physical and mental character. Competitors are racing in one of the toughest environments known to ma, and each individual understands the potential dangers involved,” said  Mohammed Ben Sulayem, Desert Challenge founder and President of race organisers, the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE). “Abu Dhabi Aviation’s support is critical to the safety of the racers, and in their debut year as sole provider, they have raised the bar for Search And Rescue standards.”

“The helicopters are a crucial part of hosting such a challenging rally as this, and the role they fulfil can literally be the difference between life and death,” said Gus Duthie, Search And Rescue Chief, who is working on his tenth Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. “Abu Dhabi Aviation’s aircraft are among the most advanced in the world, and their pilots are incredibly skilled and professional, which has helped to ensure rapid response times and limit the number of serious casualties.”

After spending four exhausting days negotiating the spectacular desert terrain and sweltering temperatures of the Western Region of Al Gharbia, the remaining riders and drivers begin the final stage at 7:00am when they leave the bivouac base camp – their home for the past four nights – for the final time.

Starting from adjacent to the luxurious Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, the field will leave behind the vast expanses and immense red dunes of the Rub Al Khali (Empty Quarter) desert and follow an anti-clockwise loop to the first viewpoint -14 kilometres east of the Humeem ADNOC station. From there, they will embark on a 124-kilometre push north towards the second checkpoint’s refuelling station - half way to Abu Dhabi.

The challengers then zig-zag north, passing two spectator viewpoints on the E65 Humeem Road. Located close together, just over 20 kilometres south of the Emirates National Auto Museum, these spots are the perfect vantage point for spectators to view the final stages of the battle for the title of 2012 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge champion. The leaders are expected to finish at around 10:10am near Al Dafrah on the edge of the city of Abu Dhabi, bringing to a close the 22nd edition of the world’s ultimate desert rally.

All participants will complete a final drive back to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit – the iconic home of the F1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – for the conclusion of the 2012 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge at 4.30pm. The public is invited to come and see the riders and drivers make their triumphant return in a spectacular ceremonial finish that sees the winners mounting the traditional rally finishing ramp, all against the stunning backdrop of Yas Marina Yacht Club.

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is organised by the ATCUAE and is held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Western Region and features a high-profile line-up of supporters, including the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, Nissan, ADNOC and Abu Dhabi Aviation.