Rally: Yas Marina Circuit hosts spectator stage to launch 25th edition of UAE’s classic desert rally
Abu Dhabi, UAE, 26 March, 2015: The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED BY Nissan will mark its 25th anniversary in style on Saturday when the event is given a rousing send-off at Yas Marina Circuit, the stage for so much dramatic Formula One action in the UAE capital over the last six years.
Abu Dhabi’s magnificent Grand Prix Circuit will for the first time host the super special spectator stage, giving motor sport enthusiasts a grandstand view of the mighty assembly of cars, buggies, bikes and quads in competitive action before they tackle some of the most spectacular and demanding desert terrain on earth.
Starting at 3pm on Saturday, the traditional curtain raiser for the Desert Challenge will see a powerful line-up of — drivers and riders from the Middle East and worldwide racing against the clock over a twisting 2km course specially designed to launch the event’s 25th edition.
It promises to be a fascinating start for an event which continues on Sunday with the first of five long desert stages in the second round of this year’s FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and the opening round of the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes.
Among the stars on show will be reigning FIA World Cup and Desert Challenge cars champion Vladimir Vasilyev from Russia, this year’s Dakar Rally winner Nasser Al Attiyah of Qatar, and the reigning FIM world champions, Spain’s Marc Coma who is seeking an eighth bikes title in the UAE, and Poland’s Rafal Sonik, who defends his quads crown.
Taking place under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Western region, the 25th Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE.
The use of Yas Marina Circuit for the Super Special Spectator Stage highlights the extra lift given to the event through the new partnership agreement which has been formed this year between the ATCUAE and Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management.
The ATCUAE and ADMM are working together to guide the Desert Challenge to new heights, and Yas Marina Circuit is also hosting the Rally HQ and media centre, as well as today’s official press conference, and a glittering gala dinner and prize giving ceremony next Friday evening.
The Nissan Patrol, the “Hero of All terrain in Life”, is positioned for the 12th year as the official vehicle of the event, and has again played a vital part in allowing the route planning team to create spectacular competitive stages in the desert of the Western Region of Al Garbia.
The line-up of strategic partners 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 Mineral Water, Abu Dhabi Waste Management, Rotana and Centro Hotels – Yas Island, Qasr Al Sarab Resort, Explorer and DP World.
“We are indebted to His Highness Sheikh Hamdan, and to the Abu Dhabi government, for their consistent support over the years to make this an event known and admired around the world,” said ATCUAE President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the rally founder.
“I’m proud to welcome such an impressive collection of competitors, support crews, officials and media to the UAE for the 25th edition of the Desert Challenge. This event means such a lot to me, to my team at the ATCUAE, our sponsors, and the many volunteers who give up their time each year and work so hard with us to make it happen.”
Al Tareq Al Ameri, CEO of Yas Marina Circuit, commented: “The 25th anniversary of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is a milestone not only for the event, but for UAE motor sport as a whole. We are delighted to be playing an increasingly active role in helping the ATCUAE ensure the rally continues to showcase Abu Dhabi as a world-class sporting destination.”
Samir Cherfan, Managing Director, Nissan Middle East, said: “The 25th edition of the Desert Challenge also marks the 12th year of Nissan’s involvement as strategic partner for the event. Nissan has a strong focus on motorsports in the Middle East and the Desert Challenge forms a powerful platform for us, and more so since it’s been nominated as number one FIA Cross Country Race in the World. We look forward to continue our partnership and driving it to a new level.” The Nissan Special Stage on the fourth leg, taking place on 1st April, will be arguably the rally’s toughest section, stretching across some 258.10 kms of the most testing rallying terrain available.
The strength of the foreign challenge is highlighted by the entry of eight ALL4 Racing Minis by the German-based X-Raid team, two of them driven by Vasilyev and last year’s runner-up, Poland’s Adam Malysz. With Al Attiyah aiming to repeat his 2008 Desert Challenge victory at the wheel of another Mini, prospects of an Arab driver winning the event are strengthened by the presence of Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi who has genuine title credentials in a Toyota Hilux.
Making the transition from conventional rallying to the cross country format in another Toyota is the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi. Also carrying UAE hopes is Desert Challenge regular Yahya Alhelei who has often excelled in the event, as he did last year by finishing fourth in a Nissan Pick-up, missing out on a podium place by just eight seconds. Among the 17 other Emirati drivers and top seeded in the buggies class is Ahmed Al Fahim, who narrowly failed to successfully defend his title in the recently completed Emirates Desert Championship.
Coma, six-times FIM Cross Country Rallies world champion, starts as favourite to land the bikes title for the eighth time, although he will be under pressure from last year’s winner, Portugal’s Paulo Goncalves, Spain’s Joan Barreda Bort, and his Dubai-based KTM team-mate, Sam Sunderland. Battling it out with the men will be Russian lady rider Anastasia Nifontova.
Looking to complete back-to-back Desert Challenge victories, Sonik faces tough opposition from Qatar’s 2013 quads winner Mohammed Abu Issa.
Meticulously honed for over 60 years, the Patrol is Nissan’s flagship SUV model and enjoys a rich heritage and passionate followers in the Middle East.
Throughout the event, a fleet of Nissan Patrols will be at the disposal of the organizers to ensure the event runs smoothly to its conclusion. Also Nissan will not only be supporting the event but will be competing through their own Nissan Patrol entrant driven by Emil Khneisser, who won the Challenge last year.