Sebastian Loeb, the current championship leader, aims for impressive run at Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
Gulf Today, Staff Reporter
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge (ADDC) has a long history of revealing championship winning talent. In recent years this has been truer than ever, and as the prestigious UAE rally enters its second year as part of the World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC), both four and two-wheeled categories are packed with the promise of emerging talent.
Saturday’s pre-event press conference welcomed competitors from all corners of the world, and for many of those present, it represents a challenge that remains to be overcome. Of all the starting drivers, only Nasser Al Attiyah, Khalid Al Qassimi, Martin Prokop, and Guerlain Chicherit have triumphed in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
It’s a similar story on two wheels. Amongst this year’s entrants, only Toby Price and Pablo Quintanilla have stood on the top step in Abu Dhabi.
The rally is presented by Abu Dhabi Sports Council and organised by the Emirates Motorsport Organisation (EMSO). Action gets underway with a Prologue on Sunday and runs through to March 3, as the competitors race through spectacular dune territory over a total of 1915 kilometres. As the drivers went through the traditional pre-event shakedown ahead of the Prologue tomorrow, the curtain was raised on the rally before the drivers take to the epic dunes surrounding Abu Dhabi.
The press conference, held at the Adnoc Energy Business Centre in the heart of Abu Dhabi, also represents a further step into a new era for the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, as the Emirates Motorsports Organisation (EMSO) signals a bright future in partnership with key institutions, organisations and companies.
Aref Al Awani, Secretary General of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, commented: “Our aim of becoming the perfect destination for the best athletes in the world is confirmed by the presence of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, and we look forward to seeing the competitors.”
Alongside the event’s partners, the EMSO has brought the first leg of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge to Al Dhannah City for the first time as the fierce competition unfolds starting with Sunday’s Prologue.
Mahir Badri, CEO, EMSO, said: “You can imagine the sacrifices these competitors are making, whether they are physical, emotional, or even financial. These people are superhuman, and they’re counting on us to ensure their well-being and provide a safe environment to compete in. But we could not do that without the help and support of the government, local authorities and the search and rescue services, and we extend our sincerest thanks to all concerned for this commitment to providing the highest quality of back-up.”
Evolving the event to bring the prestigious event to Al Dhannah marks exciting progress for the ADDC, as plans move ahead to push further development in these areas and bring the racing action closer to the fans. The future bodes well for Al Dhannah too, with a planned investment announced by Adnoc Distribution to further improve services and facilities, aimed at expanding the bustling city to attract more and more motorsport fans and tourists to the beautiful and historically-rich region.
Bader Saeed Al Lamki, CEO, Adnoc Distribution, said: ”With competitors travelling across a route that spans 1915 Km, keeping engines and racers fuelled will play a critical role in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge “2023 is a huge year for ADNOC Distribution. It will see us mark our 50th anniversary of being at the heart of our customers’ journeys – and it is an honour to support important sporting activities such as the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.”
With the situation so tight at the top of the W2RC standings, the 2023 Desert Challenge is expected to be an exhilarating second stage of the calendar as both FIA and FIM classes set out from the heart of Abu Dhabi into the demanding dunes. Attiyah starts the Desert Challenge off the back of a dramatic victory at round one of the championship held in Saudi Arabia, the Dakar Rally. He will be looking to seal the deal in the sands of Abu Dhabi as Attiyah currently sits just two points off the lead in the Drivers’ Championship, with Sebastian Loeb the current championship leader due to more stage wins.
The five-time Dakar winner will also be defending the W2RC championship title this year, having conquered the inaugural championship in 2022, with three ADDC wins during his career. The UAE’s Khalid Al Qassimi is a former Middle East rally champion and one of the UAE’s most experienced competitors, finishing second in the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas.
In 2012, Al Balooshi became the first Emirati to take part in the Dakar Rally, and in 2018 he entered the history books again as the first rider from the region to win the FIM Bajas World Cup title. He nearly repeated this incredible feat last year, but mechanical problems destroyed his title bid. Balooshi stands out amongst the thirty bikes as the current FIM Baja World Cup points leader after winning the opener in Saudi Arabia.