Saturday afternoon Yas Island super special stage brings rally to life ahead of dramatic desert action in Western Region

Speakers address a full house of international and local media today at the Rotana Hotel, Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.

Speakers address a full house of international and local media today at the Rotana Hotel, Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.

Dr. Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the ATCUAE, speaking at the official press conference for the 2013 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

Dr. Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the ATCUAE, speaking at the official press conference for the 2013 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

Dubai, UAE, 4 April, 2013: The 2013 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge comes to life on Saturday afternoon when a world-class field of drivers and riders tackle a super special spectator stage on Yas Island before embarking on five days of action-packed cross country rallying in the UAE’s Western Region of Al Garbia.

The 23rd edition of the event has attracted a powerful assembly of 110 drivers and riders from 37 countries for another classic test of endurance for competitors and rally machinery across some of the most spectacular and demanding desert terrain on earth.

 “The size and quality of the entry list shows the status the Desert Challenge enjoys,” said Dr. Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE and founder of the event, at an official press conference today.

“It’s important not only in World Cup and World Championship terms, but also as a great event in its own right. The Desert Challenge is one of the world’s great motor sport adventures, and there is so much to look forward to again this year.”

Taking place under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is the second round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars, and the opening round of the

FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship for bikes.

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 (ADMM), Nissan, ADNOC, Abu Dhabi Aviation and Qasr Al Sarab Resort by Anantara.

Accompanying Sulayem, the FIA Vice President, at today’s press conference, were Richard Cregan, CEO of ADMM; Ibrahim Al Marar, Director of the Intergovernmental Coordination Office for the Ruler’s Representative Court in the Western Region; Khaled Mashour, Project and Marketing Manager at Abu Dhabi Aviation; Abdulilah Wazni, Regional Senior Manager of Corporate Communications at Nissan Middle East; and several competitors.

Spectators will have their first chance to glimpse the impressive collection of cars, bikes and quads which have assembled in the UAE capital from across six continents during pre-event scrutineering at Yas Marina Circuit between 8am and 5pm tomorrow, prior to the final starting list being announced.

At 3pm on Saturday, beginning with the bikes, competitors will leave the official start ramp on Yas Island in reverse order, based on the official seedings, and head straight into the super special spectator stage.

The next morning sees the first of five competitive desert sections, the Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management Stage, getting under way at 9am. This takes the rally on a 299 km sweep through the desert, finishing near the bivouac, which will be the event’s base for four days and is located 2km from the Qasr Al Sarab Resort.

The next four days brings stages of 250km, 284km, 266km and finally 296km, with the survivors reaching the finish at Yas Island at 4pm on Thursday 11 April.

Topping the seedings in the cars category and looking to join a Desert Challenge winners’ list which includes some of the most illustrious names in cross country rallying is Brazilian driver Reinaldo Varela who is partnered by Italian co-driver Gustave Gugelmin in a Mitsubishi Pajero.

Also in the hunt for victory are the two drivers who followed him home in round one of the World Cup series in Italy last month, Polish driver Krystof Holowczyk in a Mini, and the irrepressible 64-year-old veteran Jean-Louis Schlesser from France, who is chasing a seventh Desert Challenge success in his Sonangol buggy.

Spanish driver Nani Roma, team-mate of Holowczyk, is another of the fancied drivers, his Mini being one of 28 T1 prototype vehicles featured among 50 cars tackling the event.

Aiming for a third successive victory in the T2 production class and also looking to leave behind a trail of more powerful challengers is the UAE’s tenth seed, Yahya Al Helei, who has yet to miss a Desert Challenge.

Like Schlesser, Spanish rider Marc Coma, the reigning FIM Cross-Country Rallies world champion, is aiming to extend a record of six victories in the UAE event, having won it the last four years in a row.

Coma 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 in a line-up of 60 bike and quad riders.

With UAE, Saudi and Qatari challengers sharing the international stage with the strong overseas contingent, one of the host country’s biggest hopes for success could be Obaid Al Kitbe who is attempting to win the quads category for the second year in succession.