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.