Hernik and two friends had used Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge to prepare for debut in South America 

Dubai, UAE, 7 January 2015: Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, today paid tribute to Polish motorbike rider Michael Hernik who has died while competing in the Dakar Rally in Argentina.

The 39-year-old Rider was found at the 206km mark of the third stage between San Juan and Chilecito in the northwest of the country on Tuesday. The cause of Hernik's death remained under investigation today.

Hernik was one of six Polish bike riders who competed in last year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, which is organised by the ATCUAE, and finished 15th overall.

“This is very sad news, and our thoughts are with Michael’s family and friends,” said Sulayem. “He was doing what he loved to do, and it is tragic when a competitor loses his life in circumstances like this.

“He took part in the Desert Challenge to help prepare himself for his first attempt at the Dakar Rally. We are very sad that he won’t be returning, but we will remember him.”

The official Dakar Rally website tells how Hernik and two friends, Pawel Stasiaczek and Norbert Madetko, had followed their dream to compete in the event.

They visited Africa to experience terrain similar terrain to what they would find in South America, and competed in the 2013 Morocco Rally.

Last year’s Desert Challenge was a key part of their build-up for Dakar, and Hernik was the highest placed finisher out of the three friends, Stasiaczek taking 23rd place and Madetko 32nd.

The 25th edition of the Desert Challenge, part of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes, takes place from 27 March to 2 April.