Stage set for World Championship drama in Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

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Stephane, who captured the bikes crown on his first UAE visit 26 years ago before a run of six cars wins from 2002 to 2019, bids to equal Marc Coma’s record of eight wins.

Gulf Today, Staff Reporter

With the might of the new World Rally-Raid Championship heading for the UAE capital, a big logistical operation is nearing completion for the 31st edition of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

Competitors from around the globe check in at Yas Marina Circuit, the rally headquarters, on Friday morning ahead of Saturday’s official start, and the traditional Sunday morning departure into the the Al Dhafra Region, where the main action takes place.

There is no more dramatic setting in the entire rally-raid series, and the world’s top drivers and riders will be tested to the limit over desert stages of 264km, 318km, 270km, 257km and 217km.

Taking the cars, trucks, bikes and quads on a spectacular journey into the Empty Quarter, the five competitive sections of the rally are centred on a bivouac that will host more than 800 competitors, technicians, officials, medical staff, volunteers and media representatives.

Working in shifts around the clock for several weeks, a 200-strong team has transformed an isolated desert basin circled by dunes into a fully equipped rally village, which serves as an active desert base for five nights.

No one in the rally-raid world appreciates the event’s natural assets, demands and facilities more than Stephane Peterhansel, who aims for another place in the record books of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge next week.

“To have a race like this in the new championship is really important, because the spirit of cross country is found in the desert, especially the dunes,” said the Frenchman, who will be partnered by Edouard Boulanger in an Audi RS Q e-tron.

Peterhansel captured the bikes crown on his first UAE visit 26 years ago, before a run of six cars wins from 2002 to 2019. Success next week would take him clear of Jean-Louis Schlesser as the first driver to claim seven victories, and overall match the eight wins of Spanish rider Marc Coma.

Over the years, the bivouac has seen many hopes of victory, and others of simply going the distance, rescued by mechanics toiling through the night to prepare rally machinery for the next day’s early morning start.

Its construction, upkeep and eventual dismantling after the rally moves on involves a major team effort by the Emirates Motorsports Organization (EMSO), the rally organisers, UAE Government and local authorities, to preserve the desert environment close to the Qasr Al Sarab Resort.

“The government authorities and the Ministry of Defence through the UAE Armed Forces give us enormous support to set up and equip the bivouac, and make our environmental policies work so effectively,” said Khalid Bin Sulayem, the EMSO’s newly-elected President.

The UAE’s Ministry of Defence has delivered most of the bivouac’s infrastructure and power, while the portable and tended community awaiting competitors has been built with the help of the Cultural Programs and Heritage Festivals Committee – Abu Dhabi.

 

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