– Old rivalry between Al-Attiyah and Al-Qassimi set to take centre stage in desert
The world’s leading drivers and riders are beginning to arrive in the United Arab Emirates ahead of next week’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED BY NISSAN.
The third round of the 2017 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies and the opening round of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship kicks off with a super special stage at the Al-Forsan International Sports Resort on April 1 and runs through the deserts of the Rub Al-Khali until April 6.
A fierce rivalry has existed between Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi for 14 years. The pair locked horns for the first time in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship and Al-Qassimi drew first blood with a title victory in 2004.
The pair continued their duel for several seasons in the regional rallying series and then the competition extended to the FIA World Rally Championship, where Al-Attiyah concentrated on the PWRC and WRC 2 categories and Al-Qassimi agreed to drive works Fords and Citroëns in the main World Rally Car categories.
Now the pair are specialising in cross-country rallying. Al-Attiyah has more experience in this discipline, as his two Dakar Rally victories and numerous wins on rounds of the FIA World Cup would suggest. But Al-Qassimi is a determined character and now has the latest version of Peugeot’s all-conquering 3008 DKR at his disposal for the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. A mechanical issue robbed him of a top finish on his ADDC debut in 2015, but he went on to finish seventh overall with a Mini All4 Racing last year.
The Emirati shadowed his Qatari rival to the finish of the recent Dubai International Baja and almost lasted the distance at the Dakar Rally in January, before mechanical issues intervened. He will be determined to push for the top of the podium to keep up the momentum in his first real season-long challenge for FIA World Cup honours. Al-Qassimi’s navigator Khalid Al-Kendi is one of the most experienced in the UAE and developed a sound knowledge of the Western Deserts by competing alongside Abu Dhabi veteran Yayha Al-Helai on many occasions.
Al-Attiyah, meanwhile, is on a winning streak with his Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux and claimed six event victories last year in Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Spain, Italy, Poland and Morocco on his way to the FIA World Cup title. A win in Dubai recently has moved him up to second in the 2017 title race behind Poland’s Aron Domzala. He also has two wins at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge under his belt but Al-Qassimi will be aiming to prevent the Doha-based driver from adding a third.
Both Nasser and Khalid have been at the forefront of rallying in the Middle East for the last 14 years and it is fascinating that they will lock horns again across the sands of the UAE, here at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, enthused Mohammed Ben Sulayem, rally founder and President of the ATCUAE.
The success of both drivers has encouraged many more people in the region to become interested in the sport and their interest in the discipline of cross-country rallying is another reason this sport is so popular now in the region.