Nobody who takes part forgets the experience, says Sulayem as Dakar winners plot Abu Dhabi victory bid

Mohammed Ben Sulayem – creating the ultimate desert rally experience.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem – creating the ultimate desert rally experience.

Dubai, UAE, 26 January, 2014: The Middle East’s cross country rally specialists have been promised an exhilarating test of guile and courage when the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge returns to the world stage for its 24th edition.

After dominating the 2014 Dakar Rally in South America, the all-conquering X-Raid team is expected to top a powerful entry list when the world’s leading drivers and riders take on the spectacular dunes of the UAE’s Western Region of Al Garbia from April 3-10.

The German-based team’s manager, Sven Quandt, will spend the next two weeks finalising his plans for the UAE following Spaniard Nani Roma’s Dakar victory ahead of team-mates Stéphane Peterhansel of France and Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah.

The chance to tackle arguably the world’s most impressive rally route, and compete with the best on a big international stage, has been a huge attraction for competitors on four and two wheels over the years, and the appeal of the Desert Challenge is as strong as ever.

“Every year, our route planning team covers thousands of kilometres to create the ultimate desert rally experience,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, launching the official countdown to the event today.

“This year, as always, we want to produce stages which set a fair but difficult test of skill, and reward the bravest drivers and riders. No-one has an easy time in the Desert Challenge. No-one wins it without pushing themselves to the limit.

“But the beauty of the event is that local enthusiasts and private entrants from around the region can compete on the same stage alongside the top professional teams, and sometimes beat them. Everyone who goes the distance is left with a great sense of achievement. Nobody who takes part ever forgets the experience.”

Reigning cars champion Roma and team-mates Peterhansel and Al Attiyah have recorded eight Desert Challenge victories between them, and regardless of Quandt’s driver choice on this occasion, he will be looking for victory from one of the MINI All4 Racing crossovers.

Spain’s Nani Roma powering his way towards victory in last year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

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 third round of this year’s FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars, and the first round of the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes and quads.

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.

With entries already arriving from across the Middle East and overseas, UAE competitors are again expected to feature prominently. While Emirati driver Yahya Alhelei, who has a succession of class wins and top ten finishes to his name, went out on the third leg last year, his son Mansour was the highest-placed Emirati driver in 14th position.

Ian Barker, Ahmed Al Shegawi, Emil Khneisser, Malcolm Anderson, Khalid Al Jafla and Matar Al Mansour were the other UAE entered drivers who completed the event.

Emirati rider Khalid Khamis Ozair secured ninth place overall in last year’s bikes category, while fellow countryman Obaid Al Kitbe finished runner-up to Qatar’s Mohammed Abu Issa in the quads. Competitors from the Gulf countries will be fighting for top ten places in all classes again this year.

Prior to the Desert Challenge, the first two rounds of this year’s FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies are being run in the forests of northern Russia next month and Italy in March, with seven other events to follow in Qatar, Egypt, Spain, Hungary, Poland, Morocco and Portugal.

After starting in the UAE, the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship will continue with rounds in Qatar, Egypt, Italy, Brazil and Morocco.