More than 100 challengers are readying to brave the gruelling desert terrain of Abu Dhabi’s Western Region in this year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge (ADDC). The event flags off on Saturday March 27 at 7pm with the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Grand Mosque as its backdrop. It will be totally staged across the Abu Dhabi emirate for the second year running.
This year’s entry sees 36 cars and four trucks, all complying with FIA T1, T2 and T4 technical regulations, as well as 57 motorcyclists and 14 quads running under FIM auspices. The event is the season-opening round of the FIA Cross-Country Rallies World Cup and FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, round one.
ADDC 2010 competitors will face two days of documentation and scrutineering (today, March 25 & 26), before a Super Special Stage (March 27) which decides the starting order. This year’s Super Special will be held for the first time at the new Al Forsan International Sports Resort. The first off-road day of the six-day cross-country motor sport spectacular, organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE), kicks off early on March 28.
Competitors then brave five days in the Liwa Desert, including the Moreeb area of the Empty Quarter (Rub Al Khali), the world's largest uninterrupted sand mass boasting some of its highest dunes.
The event, backed by Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), is further strengthening Abu Dhabi's tourism, major event and motorsport credentials which have been boosted by news that pending FIA approval the emirate will host Rally Abu Dhabi, a World Rally Championship (WRC) candidate event later this year.
“This year’s route which goes through Abu Dhabi’s Liwa desert takes in just over 2,000 kilometres of some of the world’s most stunning desert terrain. Indeed, it also embraces five of the emirate's landmarks, from YAS Marina Circuit, Al Forsan and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in the capital city, as well as Moreeb Hill and the Qasr Al Sarab desert resort in Liwa,” said Saeed Al Dhaheri, Tourism Information Services Manager, ADTA.
"These great destination assets will be showcased to the event's huge following and onto the global stage through international media coverage, demonstrating the unique experiences which Abu Dhabi can offer.
"The event also reaffirms Abu Dhabi's growing motorsport and major event credentials and its increasing ability to engage the UAE and wider Gulf community through sports activation."
Mohammed Ben Sulayem, FIA Vice President, President of the ATCUAE and Chairman of the 2010 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Organising Committee, confirmed several world-leading teams will participate in ADDC 2010, including Team X-Raid, winner of the Auto category in last year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
He said that Russia’s Leonid Novitskiy will take the driver’s seat with German Andreas Schulz at his side. The duo finished 11th overall in their BMW X3 CC at the recent Dakar rally, which has placed them early favourite to defend the BMW X-Raid team’s 2009 title clinched by Guerlain Chicherit and Tina Thorner.
However, the UAE’s Yahya Bel Helei also has his sights set on victory after carrying home the runner up trophy for the second year running in 2009.
The experienced Emirati driver has numerous top six finishes under his belt and is out to clinch a victory to beat his two-event reign as second overall. Bel Helei usually co-drives with fellow Emirati, Khalid Al Kendi, but as he fights for the crown he has thrown a curved ball and appointed his eighteen year old son, Mansour, as his co-driver. This will be Mansour’s inaugural rally.
In the bikes category, Spaniard Marc Coma returns with sights set on his fourth ADDC victory. Riding a factory KTM 690 R, the now three-time winner of the Dakar finished the 2009 Desert Challenge just over five minutes ahead of France’s Cyril Despres.
According to Sulayem, this year he has some tough competition and will be chased by sterling entries, including Poland’s Jakub Przygonski and Jacek Czachor riding for Orlen team. This year there is also a cast of Emirati bikers who all know the desert very well, including Ahmed Al Fahim and Yousef Al Mulla, plus first-timers, Khaled Khamis and Mohammed Al Khaja.
Sulayem also said that this year’s event will feature two young newcomers, including Mansour Al Helei as well as a young German biker, Tony Schattat. Schattat also 18 persevered with his entry and will be riding his Yamaha WR 450F.
Meanwhile, in the quad moto category, 13 riders have entered, including stalwart female rider Camelia Liparoti-Baggiani, and local resident entry, Vicky White. The girl riders will ride against skilled Emirati entrants, including Mohammed Al Shamsi, Obaid Echtibi and Atif Al Zarouni.
The actual competitive action will get underway with a timed Super Special Stage in the UAE capital on the morning of March 27.
The first leg on March 28 starts from Al Dhafrah plateau giving competitors an immediate introduction to the variations of terrain that they will face over the coming days, to a finish deep in the emirate’s remote desert.
Legs two and three – the Nissan stage, feature demanding loop stages around Moreeb Hill, across somewhat challenging gatch tracks, winding desert trails and the region’s notorious towering sand dunes.
Leg four is another exciting wind through the desert and takes in new stunning territory around Qasr Al Sarab. TheQasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara also marks the leg finish,
The fifth and final leg will start from Qasr Al Sarab on Thursday, April 1, with teams tackling a new desert section between Liwa to the event's finish in Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit.
Sulayem says each stage will be divided by passage controls and route waypoints, as competitors thread their way through the legendary Rub Al-Khali made famous by British explorer Wilfred Thesiger who crossed its desert expanse in the 1940s and 50s.
The UAE's premier off-road event was the brainchild of Sulayem in 1991 and has been a FIA World Cup round since 1993. The rally has been managed by the ATCUAE since Sulayem took over at the helm in 2006.
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge has traditionally attracted a host of partners, and in 2010 these include Nissan, ADNOC, Al Ain Water, Crowne Plaza Yas Island, Explorer, FedEx, Tag Heuer and Thuraya.
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