Nine-times world rally champion Loeb makes debut in event as Sunderland aims for bikes hat-trick

Abu Dhabi, UAE, 11th March, 2020:  Stephane Peterhansel can claim another place in the record books when he defends his title in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge later this month as a star-studded line-up assembles in the UAE for the 30th anniversary event.

Stephane Peterhansel
Stephane Peterhansel
Sam Sunderland
Sam Sunderland
Mohammed Al Balooshi
Mohammed Al Balooshi

The world’s most successful cross country rally competitor will be aiming for a record seventh cars victory in the event in partnership with co-driver wife Andrea in an X-raid Mini John Cooper Works Buggy.

They became the first married couple to win an FIA World Cup rally with their success in Abu Dhabi 12 months ago as Peterhansel equalled Jean-Louis Schlesser’s haul of six wins in the event.

The French driver could face his toughest Desert Challenge test to date, however, with a powerful line-up also including three more former winners in Czech Martin Prokop in a Ford Raptor RS, the UAE’s Khalid Al Qassimi at the wheel of his Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR and Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah in a Toyota Hilux.

Peterhansel, winner of the Dakar Rally seven times on four wheels and six times on a bike, can also expect pressure from Poland’s Jakub Przygonski, winner of two stages last year, and Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi, both in a Toyota Hilux.

The chase for honours in the T3 SSV vehicles will be equally intense, with challengers including nine-times world rally champion Sébastien Loeb who makes his Desert Challenge debut in a side by side OT3. British WRC driver Kris Meek is also among the 15-car T3 entry in a PH Sport Zephyr.

Another major battle for honours is guaranteed in the bikes category where Sam Sunderland, the reigning FIM Cross Country Rallies world champion, defends his Desert Challenge title and seeks a third win in the event.

Now based in Andorra, the British rider developed his desert skills after moving to Dubai as a teenager and is still a UAE-licensed competitor. He faces stern competition from fellow KTM riders Mathias Walkner of Austria and 2016 Aussie winner Toby Price, as well as Husqvarna stars Pablo Quintanilla, the 2018 champion from Chile, and Argentina’s Luciano Benavides. The UAE’s Mohammed Al Balooshi also aims for a top finish.

“There is quality everywhere you look, and we’re expecting a classic week of cross country rallying to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Desert Challenge,” said rally founder Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Emirates Motorsports Organization and FIA Vice President for Sport.

Taking place from 21-26 under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in Al Dhafra Region, the 30th Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge forms the second round of the 2020 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and buggies and the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship for bikes and quads.

The event is sponsored by the Ruler’s Representative Court, Al Dhafra Region, Yas Marina Circuit, ADNOC, Abu Dhabi Aviation, Al-Ain Water, Nissan, Tadweer, Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Resort, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi Sports Channel, the UAE Army, Abu Dhabi Police, Abu Dhabi Municipality and Al Dhafra Region Municipality.

The rally will be based at Yas Marina Circuit, and competitors start arriving at the Rally HQ on Friday 20 March for official documentation and scrutineering of all vehicles before the ceremonial start at 7.00pm the following day. The event moves out from the UAE capital into the Al Dhafra Region the next morning, and for five nights will be based at a purpose-built bivouac. The event finishes back at Yas Marina Circuit at 5.00pm on Thursday 26 March.

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