Spaniard aims to follow up Dakar triumph by grabbing another place in record books

Dubai, UAE, 5 April, 2014: Defending champion Nani Roma is prepared for another major test of stamina and nerve in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED BY Nissan as he attempts to become the fourth driver in history to complete back-to-back victories in the event over the next five days.

 On top of the world – Nani Roma on his way to victory in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge last year. The Spaniard faces a tough test to hold on to his drivers’ title

The 24th edition of the Desert Challenge begins in earnest tomorrow (Sunday) after the Saturday afternoon super special spectator stage on Yas Island, and the Spaniard has made it clear how highly he values last year’s success which helped lay the foundations for the Dakar Rally triumph that followed in January.


“It was an amazing feeling to win last year,” said Roma, partnered by French co-driver Michel Perin in one of six ALL4 Racing Minis built by the powerful German-based X-Raid team. “I had tried several times before, on a motor cycle as well as in cars, but I couldn’t do it. Last year it was one of my best victories, because I really felt sick on the second day and was on antibiotics to get me through.”

“The Desert Challenge is a very good event for us at a nice time of the year. The conditions are tough. It’s not easy to keep going all day in the dunes, and it’s a good event for us to test the car and make improvements.”

Roma, in a line-up of 99 drivers and riders from 34 countries tackling tomorrow’s (Sunday)

290-km Yas Marina Circuit special stage, the first of five demanding desert sections, has his work cut out this week.

The only drivers to have successfully defended their Desert Challenge titles since the event was launched in 1991 are Stephane Peterhansel in 2002 and 2003, Jean-Louis Schlesser who won in in 1994 and 1995, and three years in a row from 1999, and the UAE’s Mohammed Matter, winner of the first two events.

Roma is full of praise for the way the event is run, and promoted, by its founder, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE and FIA Vice President.

He said: “Mohammed and his team work hard to make the rally better every year, and it’s always a pleasure to be in Abu Dhabi. He has invested to make sure there is good TV coverage and that is very important.

“I did four rallies last year and the Desert Challenge was the only one that was seen in Spain. It was on TV every night, and this is why so many of the top car and bikes teams come to Abu Dhabi.”

Roma is glad to get back behind the wheel as the rally sets off across the dramatic deserts of the UAE’s Western Region of Al Garbia after a whirlwind last few months following his Dakar Rally triumph in South America.

“It’s been really busy for me since I won the Dakar, with lots of media events and other commitments in Spain and the US,” he said. “We did some testing in the US and have made some changes to make the car stronger and more competitive.

“This is something you have to do to stay on  top. It’s never easy to win and you have to continue to work because there is more competition coming from Peugeot next year and everyone is working hard.”

Marc Coma – chasing a record eighth Desert Challenge crown

While Roma looks to complete back-to-back wins, fellow Spaniard Marc Coma is pursuing a remarkable eighth Desert Challenge bikes title, although he is also taking nothing for granted.

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 burst to life with an action-packed super special spectator stage beside Yas Marina Circuit, the appetiser for the main course to follow. 

Used by the route planning team to create the five demanding desert stages that follow, the Nissan Patrol, “Hero of All terrain in Life”, is the official vehicle of the event for an 11th year.

The rally’s line-up of strategic partners and supporters also 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.

The next three days feature the ADNOC (269-km), Qasr Al Sarab (256-km) and Nissan Patrol (239-km) special stages, all centred on the desert bivouac, before the 244-km Abu Dhabi Aviation stage takes the survivors back to the finish on Yas Island on Thursday.