Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi celebrates after winning the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
Gulf Today, Staff Reporter
Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi proved consistency as king, as he secured his first Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge (ADDC) alongside Adrien van Beveren’s maiden victory on the bikes as part of a successful 32nd anniversary for the event.
The 2023 edition of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge saw dedicated programs broadcast in 190 territories through 81 international media rights agreements as a result of the work of the rally’s organizer The Emirates Motorsports Organization (EMSO) and the event’s global promoter, the Amaury Sports Organization (ASO). On top of that, 74 specialist journalists representing 26 media outlets across 20 different countries were present on-site during the race.
68 broadcasters took the final programme, and social media saw Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge clips reach nearly 450,000 accounts, in addition to the W2RC social media pages of 110,000 fans.
Overdrive Racing driver Rajhi, who came second in the Abu Dhabi in 2016, puts his name on the Desert Challenge’s list of winners for the first time — marking Toyota’s third win after 2016 and 2021 with Nasser Al-Attiyah.
Rajhi also makes history by becoming the first Saudi driver to win the rally, in what is now his first World Rally-Raid Championship victory (W2RC).
In the W2RC, Sebastien Loeb extended his lead after trouble for Nasser Al Attiyah limited the Qatari’s points haul. The Toyota Gazoo Racing now sits 16 points behind the Frenchman and 21 points ahead of Martin Prokop in third.
Meanwhile, another Frenchman came out victorious from the Desert Challenge after Adrien van Beveren took on the dunes of Abu Dhabi to come home first and seal his first ADDC victory and second in the overall W2RC standings, just four points behind Toby Price after the Australian rider finished third in the Desert Challenge.
The event attracted entries from all the Bike Factory Teams. Red Bull Factory bike team GASGAS were obliged to withdraw on the eve of the race due to a training injury to their leading rider and last year’s ADDC winner Sam Sunderland. The Car Factory Teams were also well represented with event partner Toyota having the largest presence and several new teams including BAIC ORV fro, China who entered the event for the first time.
Nasser Mohammed Al Mansouri, Undersecretary of the Ruler’s Representative Court in Al Dhafrah Region, commented: “The 32nd edition of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge has been a major triumph for the Al Dhafrah region and for Abu Dhabi.
I also offer my sincerest thanks to the event organiser EMSO who, supported by Abu Dhabi Sports Council, is at the heart of the event. The collective effort and the brilliant coordination of all this passion and energy has resulted in a truly world class event that we can all be immensely proud of.”
Aref Hamad Al-Awani, Secretary-General of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, expressed his appreciation for the pioneering role of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler’s Representative in al Dhafrah region, as well as his generous sponsorship of the 32nd edition of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. The event is an extension of Abu Dhabi’s ambition to host elite international sporting events, and to be seen as the perfect destination for the best athletes and drivers in the world.”
The Secretary-General of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council said: “At the successful conclusion of the 32nd edition of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, we extend our thanks and appreciation to all those who contributed to its remarkable success. This was a truly prestigious event that won everyone’s admiration and appreciation, being praised far and wide on so many levels.”
He added: “Once again, Abu Dhabi proves that it is an incubator for global, international and regional championships, and a major attraction for the world’s elite stars across a growing number of sports. We are already looking forward to participating in supporting and organising the next edition of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, an event that has become an integral part of the annual sporting programme in Abu Dhabi.”
Khalid Ben Sulayem, EMSO President, said: “It’s clear that sports fans are increasingly aware of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, and at the same time we are aware that the event is something that people dream about being involved in – whether that’s as a participant, a race steward or as a spectator.
“We are very pleased to be at the centre of something that people want to be part of and dream about, and we look forward to growing the event and welcoming more entrants and more fans next year.”
As energy partner Adnoc distribution supplied Super 98 premium fuel, specially designed to offer advanced care and efficiency in demanding environments, playing a crucial role in fueling the contest across the breathtaking desert landscape which saw Rajhi and Van Beveren come out on top.
The quality of the entrants stands as proof of how seriously this event is taken by the sport’s big names. Further adding to the rally’s prestige, this year saw the T1, T3.and T4 categories attract 51 teams from 33 countries, while amongst the three bike categories, there were 58 competitors from 28 countries, confirm that the ADDC is a truly global phenomenon.
Rajhi, 6th of the day in the fifth and final stage in front of Prokop, won the ADDC with 12’31” on the Czech and 30’25” on the T3 of Seth Quintero, representing a T3 of the Red Bull Off Road Jr Team on the podium alongside T1 competitors.
Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, winner of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in 2017, finished a respectable sixth overall, while in T4 2015 ADDC T2 winner Mansour Al-Helei leaves the rally as runner-up following an impressive victory on the final day.
Only five quad riders in this year’s Desert Challenge are entered into the W2RC, with Abdulaziz Ahli leading the way as he secured the hattrick, coming out on top this year having won the last two editions of the Desert Challenge.
After his withdrawal on the evening of Stage 3, Al-Attiyah left Abu Dhabi without a single championship point. Despite his setbacks on Stage 1, Loeb has increased his lead in the championship over the Toyota driver. On top of that, Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Martin Prokop’s positions at the ADDC mean they are back in contact with the two leaders.
In the bike category of the W2RC, Toby Price is doing well by taking the lead in the general classification ahead of Adrien Van Beveren. Kevin Benavides, the winner of the Dakar who was also leader before the ADDC, withdrew due to an injury last week, and dropped to 3rd place.
The second round of the championship has tightened the leadership race and completely revived the tension around the leaderboard. The next round will take place at the end of April in Mexico.
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge was held under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative Court in Al Dhafra Region; presented by the Abu Dhabi Sports Council; with the support of this year’s Energy partner Adnoc distribution; Automotive partner Al-Futtaim Toyota; Abu Dhabi Aviation; Al Ain Water; Governmental support from the Ministry of Defence & UAE Armed Forces , Abu Dhabi Police, Civil Defence, Abu Dhabi Distribution Co, Al Dhafra Region Municipality, and our media partner Abu Dhabi Sports TV.