Sam Sunderland aims for maiden win in Desert Challenge

Sam Sunderland © DR

– Husqvarna ready to lock horns with KTM and Honda in battle of the bikes

– Tadweer offers vital support to logistical side of Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

Less than two and a half months ago, Dubai-based Briton Sam Sunderland delivered one of the greatest performances ever seen by an English rider to win the gruelling Dakar Rally at only his third attempt.


The KTM rider had recovered from a serious injury sustained in Morocco – that forced him to miss the event the previous year – and grew in confidence and strength as the season progressed. When the defending champion and Sunderland’s team-mate Toby Price fell in Bolivia and broke his femur, and the Monster Energy Honda Team made a costly servicing error, the dice was thrown in Sunderland’s favour and he held on to take a famous win in Buenos Aires.

Life has changed considerably for the modest rider who spends his time in Dubai between races, but he heads into next week’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED BY NISSAN knowing that victory is within his grasp, as he hopes to kick-start his FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship bid with a win.

The event gets underway 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.

Sunderland has the talented Austrian Matthias Walkner and Frenchman Antoine Meo as his Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team-mates over the twisting sand trails and towering dunes that make the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge so unique.

With the exception of 2014 – when the win fell to Honda’s Paolo Gonçalves – KTM has won the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge every year since 2001. The odds are stacked in the team’s favour again with the strength of Sunderland, Walkner and Meo and support from local rider Mohammed A-Balooshi on his Ride to Abu Dhabi Team KTM and Vendetta Racing’s David McBride. Meo returns to desert action for the first time since his nasty fall at the 2016 Dakar.

But Husqvarna would love to stop KTM in their sand tracks. Pablo Quintanilla relied on consistent finishes to win last year’s FIM world title on his Rockstar Energy 450 Rally and the Chilean starts as the top seed as a result of that title success. He is also part of a two-man team alongside the consistent Frenchman and multiple FIM Motocross and Enduro World Champion Pierre Alexandre Renet.

The Monster Energy Honda Team split its resources at the start of the season and American Ricky Brabec clinched victory in Mexico’s Sonora Rally last weekend against a strong field. Management have given the task of pushing for the Abu Dhabi win to Gonçalves and the Argentinean rider Kevin Benavides, as star rider Joan Barreda Bort recovers from injury.

Twenty-eight motorcycles and 17 quads grace the entry list for the ATCUAE’s flagship off-road classic and numerous local riders are in the hunt for success. Abdulla Dakhan and Khalid Al-Falaisi wheel out their respective Yamaha and Honda and Ibrahim Bugla also has a Honda on the entry, while Kuwait’s Mohammed Jaffar wheels out a KTM factory replica 450.

« We have a very strong motorcycle club in the UAE and enduro and cross-country rallying are very popular, » said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, rally founder and President of the ATCUAE. “Sam Sunderland’s Dakar win was a major boost for the sport as a whole in the region and has attracted a lot of interest around the world. He has been a supporter of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge for several years, but we have a strong field of factory riders this year and the battle will be fascinating on two wheels.