Brazil’s Varela, Spanish star Coma top seedings as Arab competitors share world-class stage with foreign stars on four and two wheels

Six-times Desert Challenge winner and defending champion, Jean-Louis Schlesser, seeded third in his Sonangol buggy

Six-times Desert Challenge winner and defending champion, Jean-Louis Schlesser, seeded third in his Sonangol buggy

Defending champion Marc Coma is the top-seeded rider in the 2013 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

Defending champion Marc Coma is the top-seeded rider in the 2013 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.


Dubai, UAE, 31 March, 2013: Brazilian driver Reinaldo Varela and Spain’s defending bikes champion Mark Coma head a world-class line-up for the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge which promises another dramatic motor sport adventure through the spectacular desert terrain of the Western Region of Al Garbia next week.

Varela, partnered by Italian co-driver Gustave Gugelmin in a Mitsubishi Pajero, was named today as top seed in the cars category for the 23rd edition of the Desert Challenge following his recent victory in the opening round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies in Italy.

Coma, reigning champion in the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, is the No.1 seed in the bikes class for the approximately 2,000 km event, which links the two international cross country rally series and gets under way with a super special stage on Yas Ialand, Abu Dhabi, on Saturday.

An impressive entry list of 110 drivers and riders from 37 countries was announced today by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organisers.

World Cup leader Varela faces another tussle with the two drivers immediately behind him in the standings after the Italian Baja - Poland’s Krystof Holowczyk in a Mini and six-times Desert Challenge winner and defending champion, Jean-Louis Schlesser, in his Sonangol buggy.

Spanish driver Nani Roma, team-mate of Holowczyk, will be at the wheel of another powerful X-Raid Mini which is one of 28 potent prototypes entered in the T1 category in the UAE out of a total of 50 cars tackling the event.

Leading the host country’s hopes for success once again is No.10 seed Yahya Al Helei, who maintains his remarkable 100 per cent appearance record in the Desert Challenge and will be looking to add to a series of great performances in the event over the years, including numerous T2 production class wins.

Coma, winner of the bikes title for the last four years and six times overall, is followed in the seedings by his Polish KTM team-mate, Jakub Przygonski, and Speedbrain team-mates Paul Goncalves from Portugal and Spain’s Joan Barreda.

The 60 bike and quad riders competing include the UAE’s Khalid Al Falasi and Atif Al-Zarouni who are both in good spirits after enjoying success in last week’s Hail International cross country rally in Saudi Arabia. Al Falasi won the bikes title and Al-Zarouni the quads category.

The 2013 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge takes places under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region. The event’s high-profile line-up of strategic partners and supporters includes the Diwan of the Ruler’s Representative for the Western Region, Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management, Nissan, ADNOC, Abu Dhabi Aviation and Qasr Al Sarab Resort by Anantara.

 “The entry list again this year reflects the reputation of the Desert Challenge as one of the top events in international cross country rallying,” said ATCUAE President Dr. Mohammed Ben Sulayem, founder of the event and FIA Vice President.

“We’re happy to welcome back so many of our friends from across the Middle East and around the world, as well as some new names and faces to the Desert Challenge. We have had so much great action and many big individual battles over the years, and this time we have all the ingredients for another classic event.”

The international flavour of the event is underlined by an assembly of competitors from six continents, and as usual Arab drivers and riders are relishing the chance to compete on the same stage as the world’s best.

Carrying the UAE flag into competitive action in a trio of Nissan Patrols are Matar Al Mansoor, Nabil Al Shamsi and Mansour Al Helei – son of Yahya – while Saudi Arabia’s Ibrahim Al-Muhana and Ahmed Al Shegawi enter two more Nissan Patrols.

The top-ranked UAE-based competitor in the bikes class is seventh-seeded Sam Sunderland, with Mohammed Al Balooshi seeded ninth and Khalid Khamis 19th.

Starting and finishing at Yas Marina Circuit and taking place entirely within the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the 2013 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge once again takes competitors on a testing journey reaching deep into the Liwa desert.

The event’s official itinerary begins with competitor documentation  and an official press conference on Thursday (4 April), with scrutineering following the next day before a super special stage on Saturday (6 April) leading to five days of competitive desert stages.