With a typically bruising edition of the Dakar Rally still fresh in the memory the time has come for the Red Bull Desert Wings squad to return to racing in the dunes. The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge sees the best offroad competitors on the planet come together with precious world championship points on the line in the bike, quad and car categories.
Toby Price of the Red Bull KTM Factory Team has been enjoying a whirlwind victory lap since winning the Dakar in January. He was a guest of Red Bull Racing as the new Formula One season kicked off in his native Australia earlier this month. Now its time for Price to get back to business as he aims to score maximum points in the first round of this year’s FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship.
Price’s KTM team-mate Sam Sunderland finished as runner-up at last year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and also runner-up to Matthias Walkner in the 2015 FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship. The stage was set for Sunderland to have a big impact at the Dakar following his win at the Rallye OiLibya du Maroc, but the British biker broke his femur while leading the Merzouga Rally and was to miss his sport’s flagship event. Now Sunderland is back on his bike and ready to park himself in the podium positions once again.
Local favourite Mohammed Balooshi will also be onboard KTM machinery as he looks to add to an already impressive series of race results in this part of the world.
Price, Sunderland and Balooshi take their place in a world class field in the United Arab Emirates alongside Hélder Rodrigues, a rider who has vast experience and plenty of speed. The Portuguese rider is a former Cross Country Rallies World Champion and will undoubtedly be out to impress on his Yamaha once again this year.
In the quad race the comeback story of Ignacio Casale promises drama as the Chilean gets back on his wheels after crashing out of this year’s Dakar with a fractured collarbone. Casale won the Dakar in 2014 and when he finds his rhythm he has proven there’s no quicker quad biker out there.
The six-day Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge marks the start of Nasser Al-Attiyah’s defence of his FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup title. The two-time Dakar winner from Qatar and his French co-driver Mathieu Baumel will be at the controls of a Toyota Hilux for the first time and they will have to adapt quickly to their new machine if they are to see off the competition. Polish pair Marek Dabrowski and co-driver Jacek Czachor will also race a Hilux while their countryman Kuba Przygonski will be assisted by Belgium’s Tom Colsoul in a MINI.
Further intrigue in the car race in the UAE is provided by American offroad superstar Bryce Menzies. The three-time SCORE Baja 500 Champion, three-time TORC Pro2 Champion and two-time Red Bull Frozen Rush Champion is joined in a MINI for his Cross Country Rally World Cup debut by veteran navigator Andreas Schulz of Germany.
The racing begins on Saturday, April 2 with a fast-paced prologue stage held at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit. Then it’s five days of sand racing in the hostile Liwa Desert with an average stage length of 250km before the chequered flag falls back on Yas Island. Our team of Red Bull Desert Wings will have to be at their very best if they are to be toasting victory at the 26th Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on Thursday, April 7.
Toby Price: “I don’t think I could have imagined what it was going to be like after winning Dakar. I’ve had a ball, but it’s been full on. I was down to Melbourne for the grand prix before flying out to Abu Dhabi.