The 23rd edition of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Powered by Nissan and organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE officially gets underway tomorrow (Friday) with scrutineering of the vehicles at Yas Marina Circuit.
Over 100 cars and bikes have been registered for the event, which serves as the first round of the FIM Cross Country World Championship for bikes and the third round of the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup for cars.
Run over a distance of over 2,000km, the competitive sections totalling 1,300km get underway on Sunday and end on Thursday, April 10 with the culmination of the fifth and final leg – all five stages running deep inside Rub Al Khali, or Empty Quarter, in Abu Dhabi’s Western Region.
Ahead of the competitive stages, the popular spectator test will be held at the Yas Marina Circuit on Saturday from 15:00.
Fans will have the opportunity to witness the action up close before the drivers and riders head out to face the challenges of the desert.
In the cars category, defending champion Nani Roma returns to the Emirates hoping to keep his 2013 silverware, but he is likely to face some tough competition from a host of regional and international drivers.
Foremost among the competition for Roma will be Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi, who is brimming with confidence after winning the two opening rounds of the World Cup – the first in Russia and the second in Italy.
With the two wins, Al Rajhi holds a comfortable lead in the World Cup and will be hoping to make it three wins on the trot when he makes his Abu Dhabi debut this weekend in the Liwa desert.
Apart from Al Rajhi, Roma will also have to stave off the challenge that will likely be posed by the likes of Vladimir Vasilyev, Marek Dabrowski, Reinaldo Varela and Miroslav Zapleta, to name a few.
The UAE’s challenge will be spearheaded by veteran Yahya Al Helei and a host of other drivers, including Nabil Al Shamshi, Mohamed Al Mansoori, Matar Al Mansoori, Nooh Bu Humaid, Ali Al Kitbi, Ali Al Shawi and Khalid Al Jafla.
It is obvious that Roma will have his work cut out come April 6, and the same will apply for his Spanish compatriot Marc Coma, who will be hoping to defend his 2013 title in the bikes category.
Coma though faces added pressure as he chases an unprecedented eighth title in the event, and it will not be a cakewalk for the Spaniard with the likes of Paulo Goncalves, Jakub Przygonski, Joan Barreda Bort, Helder Rodrigues and Jordi Viladoms all breathing down his neck.
The lone UAE challenge in the bikes category comes from Mohammed Al Balooshi, but Dubai-based riders Sam Sunderland, David Mabbs and Alan Boyter are also in the mix and could spring a few surprises.
Both Al Balooshi and Sunderland have endurance racing experience have done long distance challenges over the years, including the demanding Dakar rally.
David Mabbs is a regular at the challenge but has now swapped his car for a bike, while Boyter is known more for his exploits on the Dubai Autodrome circuit in the UAE Sportbikes Championship.
There will be 109 vehicles at the start line come Saturday for the spectator stage, so if you are a fan of off-road racing then head to Yas Island to witness racing at close quarters. You might even get to meet your off-road racing idol!
WHAT: Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge powered by Nissan.
WHEN: April 5 – spectator stage; April 6-10 – competitive stages.
WHERE: Spectator stage on Yas island; racing in the liwa desert.
Sport360 VERDICT: if you are a fan of offroad racing, then the challenge is a must-see event. Check the event website for spectator viewing points in the desert.