Al Attiyah and Al Qassimi hoping to break title drought for region

Sport360 staff 09:14 28/03/2016
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Front-runner: Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah.

Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah and the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi are seeded second and third respectively for the 26th edition of the event, running from April 2-7, and both are highly capable of breaking a run of seven successive wins by overseas drivers in the UAE.

Al Attiyah’s triumph in 2008 made him only the third Arab driver to enjoy success in the Desert Challenge, and on numerous occasions since then, he has been frustrated by the demands of a route crossing the dramatic desert terrain of the Western Region of Al Gharbia.

The other two Arab champions before Al Attiyah were the UAE’s Mohammed Mattar, who won the first two editions in 1991 and 1992, and Qatari Saeed Al Hajri, who took the honours in 1993.

Al Attiyah went into last year’s Desert Challenge as the favourite, having secured his second Dakar Rally win a few weeks earlier.

While he led at the finish, the Qatari was excluded shortly afterwards for a technical irregularity, and he returns to the UAE looking to put that disappointment behind him. He is partnered by French navigator Matthieu Baumel again, this time in an Overdrive Toyota Hilux.

Al Attiyah and Al Qassimi have competed against each other over two decades in the Middle East and World Rally Championships, and their rivalry was extended to the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies when the Emirati made his Desert Challenge debut 12 months ago.

He was immediately on the pace, and by the penultimate leg was within reach of a podium place when his Toyota Hilux went out with a broken gearbox.

This time he will be looking for better fortunes at the wheel of a Mini All4 Racing alongside Emirati co-driver Khalid Al Kendi.

“This is a World Cup event attracting top competitors from around the globe, and it’s no surprise that we have had so many overseas winners over the years,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, president of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organisers, and president of the Emirates Motor Sports Federation (EMSF).

“Nasser has to be one of the big favourites again, while Khalid showed last year how capable he is in cross country rallying. Yazeed Al Rajhi could also be fighting for the win, so the chances of an Arab driver coming through are good.”

Saudi Al Rajhi, the No4 driver behind Al Attiyah and Al Qassimi, returns looking to build on fourth place last year in partnership with German co-driver Timo Gottschalk in a Mini All4 Racing.

The man they all have to beat is Russia’s Vladimir Vasilyev, winner for the last two years, who tops the seedings in the cars category.

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