Abu Dhabi, UAE, 25 February, 2023: The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge (ADDC) has a long history of revealing championship winning talent. In recent years this has been truer than ever, and as the prestigious UAE rally enters its second year as part of the World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC), both four and two-wheeled categories are packed with the promise of emerging talent.
Today’s (Saturday 25February) pre-event press conference welcomed competitors from all corners of the world, and for many of those present, it represents a challenge that remains to be overcome. Of all the starting drivers, only Nasser Al-Attiyah, Khalid Al Qassimi, Martin Prokop, and Guerlain Chicherit have triumphed in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. It’s a similar story on two wheels. Amongst this year’s entrants, only Toby Price and Pablo Quintanilla have stood on the top step in Abu Dhabi.
The rally is presented by Abu Dhabi Sports Council and organised by the Emirates Motorsport Organisation (EMSO). Action gets underway with a Prologue on 26 February and runs through to 3 March, as the competitors race through spectacular dune territory over a total of 1915 kilometres. As the drivers went through the traditional pre-event shakedown ahead of the Prologue tomorrow, the curtain was raised on the rally before the drivers take to the epic dunes surrounding Abu Dhabi.
The press conference, held at the ADNOC Energy Business Centre in the heart of Abu Dhabi, also represents a further step into a new era for the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, as the Emirates Motorsports Organisation (EMSO) signals a bright rally future in partnership with key institutions, organisations and companies.
Secretary General of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, HE Aref Al Awani, commented: “Our aim of becoming the perfect destination for the best athletes in the world is confirmed by the presence of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, and we look forward to seeing the competitors. against a spectacular backdrop of golden sand dunes. We are looking forward to hosting the second round of the FIA and FIM World Rally Raid Championship, and we thank all our partners for their efforts and generosity.”
Alongside the event’s partners, the EMSO has brought the first leg of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge to Al Dhannah City for the first time as the fierce competition unfolds starting with tomorrow’s Prologue. Mahir Badri, CEO, EMSO, said: “You can imagine the sacrifices these competitors are making, whether they are physical, emotional, or even financial. These are people are superhuman, and they’re counting on us to ensure their well-being and provide a safe environment to compete in. But we could not do that without the help and support of the government, local authorities and the search and rescue services, and we extend our sincerest thanks to all concerned for this commitment to providing the highest quality of back-up.”
Evolving the event to bring the prestigious event to Al Dhannah marks exciting progress for the ADDC, as plans move ahead to push further development in these areas and bring the racing action closer to the fans. The future bodes well for Al Dhannah too, with a planned investment announced by ADNOC Distribution to further improve services and facilities, aimed at expanding the bustling city to attract more and more motorsport fans and tourists to the beautiful and historically-rich region.
Bader Saeed Al Lamki, CEO, ADNOC Distribution, said: ”With competitors travelling across a route that spans 1915 Km, keeping engines and racers fuelled will play a critical role in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge “2023 is a huge year for ADNOC Distribution. It will see us mark our 50th anniversary of being at the heart of our customers’ journeys – and it is an honour to support important sporting activities such as the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. This wonderful event not only showcases the UAE’s vibrant, scenic and diverse landscape to an international audience, but also reinforces Abu Dhabi’s reputation as a global hub for motorsport.”
With the situation so tight at the top of the W2RC standings, the 2023 Desert Challenge is expected be an exhilarating second stage of the calendar as both FIA and FIM classes set out from the heart of Abu Dhabi into the demanding dunes. Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, who starts the Desert Challenge off the back of a dramatic victory at round one of the championship held in Saudi Arabia, the Dakar Rally. He will be looking to seal the deal in the sands of Abu Dhabi as Al-Attiyah currently sits just two points off the lead in the Drivers’ Championship, with Sebastian Loeb the current championship leader due to more stage wins.
The five-time Dakar winner will also be defending the W2RC championship title this year, having conquered the inaugural championship in 2022, with three ADDC wins during his career. The UAE’s Khalid Al Qassimi is a former Middle East rally champion and one of the UAE’s most experienced competitors, finishing second in the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas.
In 2012, Al Balooshi became the first Emirati to take part in the Dakar Rally, and in 2018 he entered the history books again as the first rider from the region to win the FIM Bajas World Cup title. He nearly repeated this incredible feat last year, but a mechanical problems destroyed his title bid. Al-Balooshi stands out amongst the thirty bikes as the current FIM Baja World Cup points leader after winning the opener in Saudi Arabia.
Only five quad riders in this year’s Desert Challenge are entered into the W2RC, with Abdulaziz Ahli leading the way as he aims for the hat-trick, having come out on top at the last two editions of the ADDC. In a first for the Desert Challenge, a team sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, has been formed to represent the UAE. The Abu Dhabi Team brings together a strong line-up, with leading competitors from each category coming together to conquer their home territory. Alongside those from the UAE mentioned above, 2015 ADDC T2 winner Mansour Al-Helei will be battling it out in the T4 class.
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative Court in Al Dhafra Region; presented by the Abu Dhabi Sports Council; with the support of this year’s Energy partner ADNOC Distribution; Automotive partner Al-Futtaim Toyota; Abu Dhabi Aviation; Al Ain Water; Governmental support from the Ministry of Defence & UAE Armed Forces, Abu Dhabi Police, Civil Defence, Abu Dhabi Distribution Co, Al Dhafra Region Municipality, and our media partner Abu Dhabi Sports TV.