Rally UAE: Trio of World Champions highlight entry for 25th Desert Challenge
Abu Dhabi, UAE, 17 March, 2015: The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge powered by Nissan has attracted one of the most powerful international competitor line-ups in its history for the 25th anniversary edition of the event later this month.
Three reigning world champions, Russian driver Vladimir Vasilyev, brilliant Spanish rider Mark Coma and Polish quads star Rafal Sonik, head an entry list of 162 competitors from 36 countries announced today by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the Desert Challenge organisers.
Vasilyev, who scored victory in Abu Dhabi last year on his way to winning the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies, returns to defend his title alongside co-driver Konstantin Zhilstov in one of eight X-Raid-entered minis.
They are among 50 car crews going into action in the 25th Desert Challenge, which gets under way with an afternoon super special spectator stage at Yas Marina Circuit on Saturday 28 March.
Coma, who secured the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for a sixth time last year and in January scored his fifth Dakar Rally triumph, will be looking to take his KTM to an eighth Desert Challenge success.
Sonik, meanwhile, will be aiming to complete back-to-back Desert Challenge victories to launch his bid for a second successive FIM world quads crown. “We’re delighted to have a total of 162 drivers, co-drivers, bike and quad riders from around the world for the 25th edition of the Desert Challenge, and the overall quality of entries underlines the status the event enjoys,” said ATCUAE President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the rally founder.
“So many of these competitors return to the UAE year after year, and there is a great spirit between all of them, with world champions and local private entrants sharing the stage, and supporting and encouraging each other. I’m proud that the rally has developed in this way.”
Taking place under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler’s Representative in the Western region, the 25th Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge will be based at Yas Marina Circuit under an agreement between the ATCUAE and Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management.
The Nissan Patrol, the “Hero of All terrain in Life”, is positioned for the 12th year as the official vehicle of the event.
The rally’s line-up of strategic partners and supporters 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, Al Ain Water, Abu Dhabi Waste Management, Rotana and Centro Hotels – Yas Island, Qasr Al Sarab Resort, Explorer and DP World.
While the super special stage on Saturday week will be a big draw for spectators, the main action takes place over five spectacular desert stages that follow, cutting through the intimidating dunes and sabkha plains of the Western Region of Al Garbia.
Among those aiming to beat defending champion Vasilyev to the cars title is Qatar’s 2008 winner, Nasser Al Attiyah, who scored his second Dakar success in January and has since notched successive Middle East Rally Championship wins on home territory and in Kuwait.
The top two seeds drive two of eight ALL4 Racing Minis prepared for the event by X-Raid, with another carrying Poland’s Adam Malysz, the runner-up to Vasilyev last year.
Aiming to become the fourth Arab driver to find victory in the event is Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi, who must hold serious hopes of a big result in the UAE after his superb Dakar Rally debut when he held third place before retiring two stages from the end.
Also driving a Toyota Hilux Overdrive on his first Desert Challenge appearance is the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, who will be partnered by Portugal’s Jose Marques.
Separated by three places on the seeded entry list are Yahya Al Helei, who has a string of production class wins and top ten finishes to his credit, and son Mansour, currently making his name with Abu Dhabi Racing in the Middle East Rally Championship. They are among 19 UAE drivers out of 26 from the Gulf countries who will compete with the world’s best.
Coma is seeded first in the bikes category ahead of Portugal’s Paulo Goncalves, the rider who beat him to the Desert Challenge title last year, and his Honda team-mate, Joan Barreda Bort.
Much attention will also focus on fourth-seeded Sam Sunderland, the UAE-based British rider and KTM team-mate of Coma’s who is seeking a breakthrough win in the event.
The international assembly of riders also includes Anastasia Nifontova, the first Russian lady rider to compete in the FIM World Championship. In the battle of the quads, the biggest threat to world champion Sonik could be posed by the rider the Pole succeeded as Desert Challenge champion last year, Qatar’s Mohammed Abu Issa.