Ever present Al Helei and Desert Fox Stanovnik reflect true spirit of UAE’s classic desert rally – Sulayem

Abu Dhabi, UAE, 24 March, 2015: One very familiar face will be missing when the world’s top cross country rally stars battle the Rubi Al Khali next week, but another competitor will extend his 100% appearance record in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge powered by Nissan.

Miran Stanovnik, the veteran rider from Slovenia, misses the event’s 25th edition because of a training injury, ending an unbroken run of 19 appearances since the rally was extended to include bikes in 1995. reflecting

UAE driver Yahya Al Helei, meanwhile, adds to his remarkable record as the only competitor to start every Desert Challenge since the event was launched in 1991.

“We’re disappointed that Miran can’t make it this year, but probably not as disappointed as he is,” said ATCUAE President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the rally founder.

“He loves the event, and has become part of the Desert Challenge family who keep coming back year after year because of the special nature of the rally, and the camaraderie that exists among competitors. We’ll miss him, but he already told me he’ll be back next year.”

Added Sulayem: “Yahya’ is another of the great characters of the Desert Challenge. It’s amazing that he hasn’t missed one year, but on top of that he has produced some fantastic performances, showing that Emiratis can compete with the best in the world.”

Boasting a string of production class wins and impressive overall finishes, Al Helei is back in action next week in the Nissan Pick up which he took to a spending fourth place last year, losing a podium place by just eight seconds.

The ebullient Emirati is known best for his appearance on four wheels, although he once  tackled the event on a bike, reaching the bivouac well after darkness after encountering mechanical problems and navigating by the stars.

Stanovnik, meanwhile, as a result of his exploits in the Desert Challenge and 19 Dakar Rally appearances, has earned the nickname of the Desert Fox. He finished fifth in the UAE last year and at 50 remains a formidable competitor.

Once a member of the former Yugoslavia’s national athletics team, he was a recruit in President Tito’s Guard, later a Commander in the Slovenian Territorial Defence, and also found time to be a semi-professional footballer and cyclist.

He is currently recovering from an elbow injury at home in Log-Brezovica, near the Solvenian capital of Ljubljana, which brings back memories for Sulayem and Desert Challenge clerk of the course Ronan Morgan.

They competed there in 1989 in the Saturnus Rally when they were invited to meet the mayor, the position now held by Stanovnik just down the road.

Taking place under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Western region, the 25th Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is the second round of this year’s FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and the opening round of the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes.

The Nissan Patrol, the “Hero of All terrain in Life”, is positioned for the 12th year as the official vehicle of the event

The line-up of strategic partners includes the Ruler’s Court in the Western Region, Western Region Municipality, Abu Dhabi Municipality, the UAE Army, Abu Dhabi Police, National Ambulance Service, Nissan, Yas Marina Circuit, ADNOC, Abu Dhabi Aviation, Abu Dhabi Waste Management, Rotana and Centro Hotels - Yas Island, Qasr Al Sarab Resort, Explorer and DP World.