The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is the third round of this year’s FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and buggies, and the opening round of the FIM World Cup for bikes and quads. On Sunday morning, the rally will begin with 112 competitors from 28 countries.
The next four days will see the Nissan (287.92 km), Ain Water (281.38 km), ADNOC (244.49 km) and Abu Dhabi Aviation (218.57 km) stages, with the remaining competitors returning to the Yas Marina Circuit at 16.30pm on Thursday.
Defending champions Khalid Al Qassimi and Sam Sunderland both face a difficult test as they attempt to hold on to their cars and bikes titles. Partnered by French co-driver Xavier Panseri in a Peugeot Abu Dhabi Racing Team 3008 DKR, Emirati Al Qassimi is eager to bounce back from his first leg mechanical problems in the recent Dubai International Baja won by Poland’s Jakub Przygonski and Belgian co-driver Tom Colsoul in a Mini John Cooper.
Przygonski returns to action as part of a six-car X-raid team challenge also featuring Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi and German co-driver Timo Gottschalk, Austrian Chris Rosenberger and German Nicola Bleicher, Italian Eugenio Amos and Portugal’s Filipe Palmeiro, and German Stephan Schott with Portugal’s Paulo Fiuza.
Completing the line-up for the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is French legend Luc Alphand who steps out of retirement eight years after suffering serious injuries in a motor bike accident. Alphand, the former World Cup downhill champion who retired from competitive skiing in 1997, won both the Desert Challenge and the Dakar Rally in 2006 and returns to rally action in a John Cooper Works Buggy with German co-driver Andreas Schultz.
Last year’s runners-up, Czechs Martin Prokop and Jan Tomanek, are back in the Ford F-150 Evo which took them to fourth place in the Dubai Baja. Russian Vladimir Vasilyev, Desert Challenge winner in 2014 and 2015 with Konstantin Zhiltsov, is trying to become only the third driver in the rally’s history to win the event three times while France’s five-times bikes winner Cyril Despres returns at the wheel of a Buggy Ford 2WD alongside Chilean co-driver Steve Ravussin.
Sunderland will be under pressure again from the two riders who completed the top three of last year Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is Chilean Pablo Quintanilla on a Husqvarna and KTM factory team-mate, Austria’s reigning Dakar Rally champion, Matthias Walkner. But 2014 winner Paulo Goncalves, American Ricky Brabec, Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, Chilean Jose Ignacio Cornejo and Frenchman Michael Metge will be battling to take Honda to victory.
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Powered by Nissan is supported by Al Dafrah Region Municipality, Abu Dhabi Municipality, the UAE Army, Abu Dhabi Police, Nissan Middle East, Adnoc, Abu Dhabi Aviation, Al-Ain Water, National Ambulance Service, Tadweer, Yas Marina Circuit and the Qasr Al-Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara.