Rally: Sunderland targets Desert Challenge win after new chance with KTM
Dubai, UAE, 25 February, 2014:Dubai-based rider Sam Sunderland has quickly set his sights on victory in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge after his career received a major boost when he joined the most successful bikes team in international cross country rallying.
The 24th edition of the Desert Challenge, which marks the opening round of the 2014 FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship from 3-10 April, will see Sunderland make his competitive debut with the Red Bull KTM Factory Rally Team after signing a three-and-a-half-year agreement.
The deal underlines the 24-year-old’s status as one of the sport’s brightest young talents, and he will now look for immediate success in the UAE’s Western Region of Al Garbia, where his biggest rival will be new KTM team-mate Marc Coma, the four-times Dakar Rally winner and six-times FIM world champion.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity to be joining the team which has won the Dakar for the last 13 years, and I’m really excited to get the chance to work with Marc,” said Sunderland. “The team has a huge amount of experience, and I’m dreaming really. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Sunderland links up with Coma and the rest of the KTM team for two weeks of testing in Spain next month before returning to the UAE for another week of preparations for the Desert Challenge.
“It’s definitely an event that I consider I have a possibility to win,” he said. “But for that to happen everything needs to fall into place. There are so many factors involved in winning a rally like the Desert Challenge, where you’re riding ten hours a day for five days.”
Taking place under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Western Region, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE and is also the third round of this year’s FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars.
The event’s high-profile line-up of strategic partners and supporters includes the Diwan of the Ruler’s Representative for the Western Region, Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management, Nissan, ADNOC, Abu Dhabi Aviation and Qasr Al Sarab Resort by Anantara.
Sunderland looked to be heading for a brilliant victory in the event last year before a time penalty imposed for a basic technical infringement saw him finish third, as Coma scored a record seventh win in the UAE.
“Sam showed a lot of maturity in the way he accepted that disappointment and quickly put it behind him, and he has a very bright future ahead of him,” said ATCUAE President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the FIA Vice President. “He now has a wonderful opportunity to learn from the best, and it’s very satisfying to see a young competitor developing his talent in the UAE and earning recognition in this way. We hope he will inspire many other young riders here.”
After the Desert Challenge Sunderland will contest the second round of the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship in Qatar before finalising the rest of this year’s schedule in the build-up to the Dakar Rally.
Another of his biggest rivals in the UAE is expected to be Portugal’s Paulo Gonçalves, who finished runner up to Coma in last year’s event but edged out the Spaniard in the race for the 2013 FIM world title.The FIA World Cup series is already under way, with the opening rally in Russia, won by Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed AlRajhi, to be followed by the second round in Italy next month before the sport’s top drivers assemble in the UAE.