The official entry list was announced Tuesday for 26th edition of the event, which will be held from April 2-7.
Vasilyev and Zhilstov look for a third successive victory in Abu Dhabi, where their biggest challengers include Qatar’s two-time Dakar Rally winner Nasser Al Attiyah, the host country’s experienced contender Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi and Finland’s former WRC star Mikko Hirvonen.
The UAE’s 18-driver challenge also sees eighth-seeded Yahya Al Helei maintaining his remarkable 100 per cent appearance in the event, while his son, Mansour, defends the T2 production class title he won last year.
The top ten seeds include accomplished German lady driver Jutta Kleinschmidt, who finished third overall in the 1996 Desert Challenge and went on to become the first woman to win the Dakar Rally five years later. She forms one of two all-lady crews in the event with Swedish co-driver Tina Thorner, the other being Italians Valentina Casella and Giulia Maroni.
With Spain’s Marco Coma having retired from competitive rallying following his eighth Desert Challenge victory last year, the event is guaranteed a new bikes champion this time, and 42 riders from 12 nations will be in action.