Ben Sulayem takes trip down memory lane as Abu Dhabi

Mohammed Ben Sulayem © DR

– Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid pleased after initial test with new Peugeot

– Multiple champion Rafal Sonik aiming for fifth successive FIM Quad title

The official pre-event press conference for the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED BY NISSAN was held at the Yas Marina Media Centre on Thursday.

The event fires into life with a timed super special stage at the Al-Forsan International Resort from 3pm on Saturday (April 1).

Event founder and ATCUAE President Mohammed Ben Sulayem was joined at the pre-event press conference by several leading sponsors and competitors.

Al-Tareq Al-Ameri represented the host venue and Abdullillah Wazni attended on behalf of Nissan in his role as General Manager of Marketing and Corporate Communications. ADNOC’s Ibrahim Al-Marooqi, Arwa Al-Kindi of Abu Dhabi Aviation and Al-Ain Water’s Fashahat Beg completed the line-up of sponsors in attendance.

Sulayem spoke about the history of the rally, since its inception in 1991, and the risks of competing without suitable hydration on an event of the scale and difficulty of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. He recalled his first experience of taking part in the Jordan Rally as a rookie rally driver back in the 1980s, when he was advised not to continue after suffering the effects of salt depravation and dehydration.

“Rallying is just a part of the motor sport set-up in the Middle East now alongside circuit racing, karting and, of course, motorcycling,” said Ben Sulayem. “We have a wonderful facility in Yas Marina, but rallying was really the start of the motor sport tradition in the Middle East. The UAE Desert Challenge was a round of the FIA World Cup as far back as 1993.”

Ben Sulayem and leading sponsors were joined by drivers Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi, Aron Domzala, Emil Khneisser, Ahmed Al-Maqoodi, Yayha Al-Helai and riders Sam Sunderland, Paolo Gonçalves, Mohammed Al-Balooshi and Pablo Quintanilla.

Abu Dhabi Racing’s Al-Qassimi was able to test his new PH Sport Peugeot 3008 DKR in the deserts near Sweihan on Wednesday and was impressed with his findings. “This is the latest version of the Peugeot and I was happy with the test. It is rear-wheel drive, so I am not sure how it will be in the difficult dunes, but I have the engineer with me from the Dakar, who worked on Stéphane Peterhansel’s winning car. We will see.”

Al-Attiyah and Domzala headed straight from the media conference to make a shakedown test in the desert with their Toyota Hiluxes, as Al-Balooshi talked about his goal of competing against the factory riders on home sand, Quintanilla set his sights on a first Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge win for Husqvarna and Al-Maqoodi hoped to follow up the win in last year’s Dubai International Rally with T3 success in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

Meanwhile, Al-Helai talked at length about his fondness for the event, after taking part in each of the 27 editions since 1991, and Khneisser mentioned his desire to succeed for Nissan on an event that the Japanese manufacturer has supported for 14 years.

Rafal Sonik claimed the FIM Quads Cross-Country World Championship for the fourth successive season last year and the Pole is back to defend his title. His closest rivals in 2016 were Sebastien Souday, Ignacio Casale and Camelia Liparoti, but only the Italian female is present in Abu Dhabi to challenge Sonik.

That doesn’t mean that the Yamaha rider will have everything his own way, however. Fellow countryman Kamil Wisniewski has considerable experience on his Honda and the likes of Dutchman Kees Koolen, Argentina’s Lucas Innocente and the Kazakh quartet of Kirill Solokha, Azamat Tleuessov, Timur Baizhiyenov and Sergey Kistanov will be aiming for a podium finish.

Adding strength to an impressive line-up of 17 quads are the Emirati riders Humaid Al-Mashghouni, Mohammed Al-Shamsi and Khalifa Al-Raeesi and Kuwait’s Fahad Al-Musallam.

Russia’s Maxim Antimirov, England’s Kyle Stockman, Peruvian Alexis Hernandez Ponce and Guatamala’s Rodolfo Schippers complete the parade of quads.

Tomorrow (Friday), sees the conclusion of technical scrutineering and the final preparation of vehicles and motorcycles before the start. The leading riders pass their technical checks around noon and the top seeded cars, including Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi’s Peugeot 3008 DKR and Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah’s Toyota Hilux, follow in the early afternoon.

Neil Perkins,