This month’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge will feature a cluster of private drivers looking to achieve a podium finish including UAE-based Team FJ made up of expatriate duo, Dave Mabbs and co-driver Xavier Caminada. They are gearing up to hit the terrain of Abu Dhabi’s Al Gharbia western region in a purpose-built Toyota FJ cruiser
This is the second ADDC for Mabbs and Caminada in their FJ Cruiser and they are confident of beating their own record with a top four placing in the car category. The pair finished last year’s event in fifth-place overall position.
Mabbs sourced the unique vehicle from the United States on the Internet three years ago. It was originally built by US-based Donahoe Racing, now ICON Vehicle Dynamics, with the assistance of Toyota USA in 2007. It was given its inaugural Middle East run in 2008’s Desert Challenge.
However, an accident over a heavy landing in the dunes pulled it out of the race and hospitalised his then co-driver, Tim Ansell with a lower back injury. Ansell is now full recovered but has not yet returned to competition.
Briton Mabbs said: "We have invested close to US$ 100,000 in our vehicle. It has done well with a ‘First in Class win’ in its inaugural race in the Baja 250 in North America and then ‘First in Class, Fifth Overall’ for us in the 2009 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
The unique Toyota FJ design has undergone thorough scrutineering by the FIA’s technical committee in Paris. Mabbs was forced to implement several other changes before the car could be admitted into the FIA T1 category and be eligible for events like the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
The engine, which has been a weak spot in the past, is a near-standard 4.0-litre V6 unit. The vehicle’s rear end has been fitted with an unusual four-link suspension, equipped with shock absorbers fitted with coil-over springs and ‘Jounce Shocks’. The front suspension has also been custom-built for desert rallying.
“In the desert, suspension is king,” admits Mabbs. “No matter how powerful the engine and how fast the driver, weak suspension will break within hours and we’d have no chance of competing with the works teams on the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge without attention to detail in this area.”
The FJ Cruiser also did the duo proud in last year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, when Mabbs and Frenchman Caminada - who has notched up than 23 years of rally experience, 12 in the GCC, finished fifth overall. They also had a good run in the Saudi Arabian Ha’il Baja.
“This is a professionally built vehicle with race proven abilities and an aggressive stance. We drive it without a windscreen, a one of its kind feature in the cross-country racing circuit”, said Mabbs who prefers dust in the cockpit over the excessive temperatures that other drivers face on events like the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
“We are constantly challenging ourselves to push harder and the new terrain that will make up part of this year’s event is very exciting for us,” said Mabbs.
The six-day competitive section of the cross-country motor sport spectacular, organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE) with the full backing of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, will run from March 27-April 1, 2010. Once again the event will be the season-opening round of both the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup and the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship.
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge has traditionally attracted a host of partners, and in 2010 these include Nissan, Adnoc and Explorer publishing.
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