Abu Dhabi: Mohammed Ben Sulayem says the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, the spectacular event he founded 30 years ago, is a perfect fit for the new FIA World Rally Raid Championship that will bring cross country rallying next year leads into a new era.
Under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the ruler’s representative in the Al Dhafra region, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge hits a new milestone this week as the longest-running cross-country rally in the Middle East.
“We thank Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan for his continued support and encouragement as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the rally,” said Ben Sulayem, President of the Emirates Motorsports Organization (EMSO) and FIA Vice President for Sports.
“This was crucial and has now put us in a strong position from which to look forward to an exciting new chapter in cross-country rallying.”
Ben Sulayem, currently with the FIA overseas, led the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge into the FIA World Cup for cross country rallies in 1993, two years after its inception, and regards it as one of the elite events marking the new direction of the sport can fully absorb.
The World Cup series will be replaced next year when the FIA, the world governing body for motorsport, introduces the new World Rally Raid Championship. The focus is on new, alternative and experimental technologies in line with the FIA’s environmental strategy in support of climate change, technology and innovation and sustainable practices.
During today’s press conference at the Yas Marina Circuit hosted by EMSO CEO Mahir Badri, key event sponsors and an international line-up of drivers and drivers participating in the 30th Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge were presented.
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is supported by the Ruler’s Representative Court Al Dhafra Region, UAE Armed Forces, the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, ADNOC Distribution, Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi Aviation, National Ambulance, Al-Futtaim Toyota, Abu Dhabi Police , Abu Dhabi Township, Al Dhafra Township, Al-Ain Water, and Tadweer.
“This is a proud moment for everyone at EMSO, as well as for our sponsors, who are invaluable in their support, and the volunteers who devote their time every year to make the rally a reality,” said Badri.
“Over the years we have enjoyed seeing many of the top competitors in the sport put their skills to the test at this great event and our local drivers and drivers have the chance to share an exciting world stage. We look forward to more of them on the occasion of the 30th anniversary. “
Al Tareq Al Ameri, CEO of Yas Marina Circuit, the official headquarters of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, commented: “We are delighted to work with EMSO again to ensure that the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge continues to showcase Abu Dhabi as a world-class sporting goal.
“This is undoubtedly one of the world’s premier international cross-country rallies and the Yas Marina Circuit is proud to have contributed to the event achieving its impressive 30-year record.”
At today’s press conference there were Nasser Al Attiyah from Qatar, who was champion of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in 2008 and 2016 and leader of this year’s FIA World Championship, and Khalid Al Qassimi from the United Arab Emirates, winner of his 2017 home race.
Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi, who finished second in the FIA World Cup drivers’ championship, is looking for his first Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, while Emirati driver Yahya Al Helei is extending his remarkable 30-year, 100 percent home race appearance record .
He shared the press conference spotlight with son Mansour, who originally drove for his father before taking the wheel, as well as Molly Taylor, who became the first Australian female rally champion to appear after being the youngest driver ever the series in 2016.
The top drivers present today included Austria’s new FIM cross-country rally world champion Matthias Walkner, Emirati Mohammed Al Balooshi, who was the first driver from the GCC region to win the FIM Bajas World Cup title, and Poland’s six-time FIM World Cup quad -Champion, Rafal Sonik.
Also at the press conference were French star Adrien Van Beveren, former Australian enduro specialist Daniel Sanders, 2015 FIM women’s cross-country rally world champion, Anastasiya Nifontova, and Portuguese Joaquim Rodrigues, who has worked professionally for 27 years Supercross and motocross drivers were on the road before the start of the rally.
After the Yas Island Super Special Stage for bikes and quads on Saturday afternoon (1.30 p.m.), tomorrow morning the Abu Desert Challenge will take place in the dunes of Al Dhafra for the first of five test stages. The rally ends on the next Thursday afternoon at the Yas Marina Circuit.
Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge rally schedule
Nov 6 Super Stage Yas Island – 2km
Nov 7th Level 1 Representative court of the ruler Al Dhafrah region – 262.02km
Nov 8, Stage 2 ADNOC distribution – 333.43 km
Nov 9, Stage 3 Abu Dhabi Sports Council – 293.00 km
Nov 10, Stage 4 Abu Dhabi Aviation – 251.98km
Nov 11, stage 5 Yas Marina Circuit – 162.94km