The towering dunes and spectacular terrain of the formidable Liwa Desert have once again attracted the biggest stars of motorsport with three of cross-country rallying’s biggest names confirmed to take part in next month’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
This year, legends Leonid Novitskiy, Marc Coma and Stéphane Peterhansel – each one among the sport’s most successful champions – will headline a world-class line-up of 99 competitors from 32 countries when they take part in one of the world’s toughest and most popular rallies.
As the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship season-opener and the second round of the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge consists of four categories: cars, bikes, quads and trucks. It is renowned across the rally world as a gruelling test that identifies the world’s best racers.
“Tough competition is part and parcel of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, and that is why we continue to attract the world’s best racers every year. Doing well here gives drivers tremendous bragging rights, and the very best of them see the race as a chance to really prove themselves in front of their peers,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, FIA Vice-president and Chairman of the Desert Challenge Organising Committee.
“Competitors come here in a bid to conquer Abu Dhabi’s Western Region, with its huge sand dunes and punishing terrain. Motorsport fans assemble from across the UAE and wider Middle East to witness the terrific show of power by man and machine as they seek to tame the fearsome wilds of the Empty Quarter, which we know as Rub Al Khali.”
Novitskiy, from Russia, rose to the challenge by winning last year’s car category. And now, as reigning FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies champion, he says he is confident of defending his crown when the field embarks on 1,570 kilometres of competitive stages across Abu Dhabi emirate, including five days in the Western Region’s Liwa Desert, from April 1-7.
“The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is one of the world’s most testing rallies and winning it last year was a massive achievement for me,” said Team X-Raid’s Novitskiy, who will pilot a BMW X3. “The sand-based nature of the event means I must take a completely different approach to others races, where significant passes are run on gravel.”
Racing alongside Novitskiy for Team X-Raid will be Peterhansel, one of the most successful drivers to compete in the legendary Dakar rally with an unprecedented nine wins in both car and motorcycle categories. The French two-time Enduro champion will be competing in an eye-catching Mini All4 Racing car.
In the bike category, Spain’s reigning 2010 FIM Cross Country Rallies world champion Coma is looking to complete a hat-trick of Abu Dhabi victories on his KTM 450, to add to his superb third Dakar win this January.
Elsewhere, Norway’s Pål Anders Ullevålseter, who gained his first Dakar podium when he finished second last year, and Italy’s Oscar Polli, Cross Country Rally world champion in 2008, have entered in the event’s car and 450cc bike categories, respectively.
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is organised by the ATCUAE under the title sponsorship of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), and is held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Western Region. While the majority of the event is being run in remote desert areas, organisers have installed spectator-friendly sections in Abu Dhabi city and the Challenge’s bivouac, at Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, is also open to the public.
“Our headline trio, as well as the other entrants in the event’s world-class field, will marvel at the natural splendour of Liwa and Rub Al Khali as they pilot their cars, bikes, trucks and quads through the stark beauty of the Abu Dhabi desert,” said Faisal Al Sheikh, Events Manager, ADTA. “I would encourage fans to make the trip into Liwa, not only to enjoy watching some of the sport’s leading names tackle the event route, but also to experience the majestic desert environment first-hand.”
The 2011 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is backed by a high-profile line-up of sponsors and supporters that includes: Al Gharbia, Yas Marina Circuit, ADNOC, Rotana – Yas Island, Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, Al Ain Water, TAG Heuer, Explorer, Fed Ex and Nissan – Nissan’s Patrol, dubbed The Hero of All Terrain, is the official vehicle of the rally.
Meanwhile, a landmark partnership with Eurosport TV will see daily global broadcasts of all the 2011 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge action.