Power of sport brings together countries in crisis as team proudly flies their flags together in UAE

Dubai, UAE, 4 April, 2014: The flags of Ukraine and Russia will be proudly flown together by a  team in this week’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED BY Nissan as motor sport unites two countries at the centre of world attention in the ongoing Crimean crisis.

When the event gets under way in the UAE capital tomorrow (Saturday), five top Russian drivers and riders go into action under the guidance of a Ukrainian team manager, their cars and bikes given daily care and attention by support crew from Kiev.

Dubai-based Ukrainian Vadim Pritulyak, General Manager of the VVI Rally Team, says: “What is happening now on the Ukrainian border is very sad. All Ukrainians and Russians share the same languages and culture.  

“My brother was a colonel in the Russian army and I was a company leader in the special forces of the Ukrainian airborne regiment, and there is no way we would ever fight against each other. It’s politics that makes war, not people, and we are proud to fly the Russian and Ukrainian flags together in solidarity in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

“All our drivers and riders are Russian, yet all the mechanics and support crew are from Ukraine. We have all known each other for more than ten years."

Starting with a super special spectator stage beside Yas Marina Circuit at 3pm tomorrow (Saturday), the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is the third round of the 2014 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars, and the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes.

Pritulyak, who contested the event on a motor bike in 2011 and 2012, launched his own company in Dubai six months ago and since then has been building a powerful team to compete in the Desert Challenge for the first time.

The team’s two Russian drivers are  Anton Grigorov, who drives a T1 Nissan prototype and has competed in the Dakar Rally three times, and Andrey Rudskoy, current leader of the production category in the FIA World Cup series in a T2 Nissan Patrol.

The three Russian riders are Aleksei Nikishin, an individual Russian Enduro champion, Renat Valiullin, who rode alongside him in a Russian Enduro championship-winning team, and one of the handful of lady competitors taking part, Anastasiya Nifontova, a Russian Supermoto champion and Rally Raid Russia vice champion.

Supporting the five competitors this week are four car mechanics from Kiev, three correspondents, two of them Ukrainian and the other a Russian, as well as the team’s Ukrainian co-founder, Vladislav Kushchynsky.

“We’re very happy to welcome competitors and other members of the same team proudly flying the flags of Russia and Ukraine,” said rally founder Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE and FIA Vice President. “This shows the power of sport to unite people even in the most difficult circumstances.”

Pritulyak says he set up the VVI Rally team to create “maybe the best rally team in the world'. 

He has three instructors and conducts desert rally training in the deserts of the UAE for riders and drivers from far and wide, including Russia, Ukraine, Holland, Kazakhstan, Poland and UK.

The cars and bikes taking part in the Desert Challenge were shipped in from Ukraine, although the team now also builds rally bikes in the UAE.

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, which is held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region, has attracted 108 drivers and riders from 32 countries.

They include defending cars champion Nani Roma from Spain and seven-times bikes winner and fellow countryman Marc Coma, who both triumphed in this year’s Dakar Rally.

Following tomorrow’s (Saturday) super special spectator stage on Yas Island, the competitors head off into the deserts of the UAE’s Western Region of Al Garbia for five days of dramatic rallying among giant dunes. The event finishes back on Yas Island next Thursday afternoon.

The rally’s line-up of strategic partners and supporters includes the Ruler’s Court in the Western Region, Western Region Municipality, Abu Dhabi Municipality, the UAE Army, Abu Dhabi Police, Nissan, Yas Marina Circuit, ADNOC, Abu Dhabi Aviation, Al Ain Water, Abu Dhabi Waste Management, Rotana and Centro Hotels – Yas Island, Qasr Al Sarab Resort, the Tourism Development and Investment Company, TAG Heuer, Explorer and DP World.