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  3. WORLD-CLASS RACERS PREPARE FOR ABU DHABI DESERT CHALLENGE’S RETURN TO MEZAIRA’A AFTER 22 YEARS

WORLD-CLASS RACERS PREPARE FOR ABU DHABI DESERT CHALLENGE’S RETURN TO MEZAIRA’A AFTER 22 YEARS

17 Feb 2024
  • Will the Desert Experts Overcome Technical Challenges and Soaring Dunes in This Ultimate Test of Endurance?

A world-class line-up of competitors is due to arrive in the UAE for the upcoming Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge (ADDC). Teams from all over the world, including emerging desert racing talents, are heading towards the UAE capital as this year’s eagerly awaited showdown approaches (25th of February to March 2nd, 2024).

Anticipation is high for an epic battle in the rugged, unforgiving Empty Quarter in an ADDC that fea-tures new route sections and a return to Mezaira’a for the first time since 2002, where there will be a second bivouac. For three days and nights, the bivouac will be open to the public each afternoon, with engineers, drivers, and riders available for meet and greets, plus a family area and an array of racing-related activities for visitors.

The event organised by the Abu Dhabi Sports Council and the EMSO (Emirates Motorsports Organi-zation), is the second round of the FIA & FIM World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC). The entry list for the 2024 Desert Challenge will see established and globally famous talent returning, with up-coming talents also encouraged to compete in this ultimate test of driving, endurance, and navigation skills.

Since the government of Abu Dhabi is focusing on the development of the Al Dhafra region, the route this year showcases the very best of the Empty Quarter Desert. The rally action will start in Al Dhan-nah City where there will be a two-night bivouac, before the competitors head to Mezaira’a in the Liwa Oasis.

A Spectacular Journey Through Liwa's Cultural Jewel

A Spectacular Journey Through Liwa's Cultural Jewel

H.E. Aref Al Awani, Secretary General of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, said: “The Abu Dhabi Sports Council believes strongly in the importance of international events, and the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is a jewel in the crown of the UAE’s sporting achievements. The proof of its relevance lies in the fact that it’s one of the oldest sporting events in the country, and that it continues to attract the very best competitors and the most passionate motorsport fans. We work alongside the EMSO on dif-ferent projects throughout the year, and we feel proud to join forces with them each year for an event that reaffirms the Emirate of Abu Dhabi’s position as a major player on the map of global sporting ex-cellence.”

Under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the ruler’s representative in Al Dhafra, the event will showcase the extraordinary landscapes and rich culture of the region, with Mezaira’a, at the heart of the Liwa area, widely regarded as the cultural jewel of the Empty Quarter.

The three-night bivouac in Mezaira’a - the city built on the doorstep of the mysterious Rub’Al Khali – will see the ADDC competitors in one of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s favourite places. The UAE’s founding father loved the area and spent much of his time there due to its spectacular, towering dunes, and its place at the heart of the UAE’s rich, traditional desert culture.

Contending with the soaring dunes of Liwa, as well as treacherous patches of quick sand, alongside heat and hydration issues, drivers from all over the world will take on one of the most demanding routes on the calendar, including desert experts Nasser Al Attiyah and Yazeed Al Rahji (GCC Nation-als, hence sons of the desert). Almost all the top 20 ranked drivers in the World Championship have signed up for the desert classic, including the Desert Challenge’s 2009 winner, Gerlain Chicherit, and 2018 victor Martin Prokop.

Al Attiyah’s move to Prodrive after six years at Toyota was the transfer news of the year, but the 2024 Dakar saw Al Attiyah’s car experiencing technical problems, forcing him to leave the race. The Qatari has also broken his alliance with long-time French co-driver Mathieu Baumel, who has been replaced by Edouard Boulanger, former co-pilot of rally legend Stéphane Peterhansel. Their first official race together will be the ADDC.

The same is true for Yazeed Al Rajhi, as the Saudi rolled in the Empty Quarter during Dakar. So, the first and second place finishers at the 2023 W2RC both have some catching up to do during the 2024 ADDC, but thanks to new W2RC regulations, both drivers did score some points, with Al Attiyah cur-rently lying 8th on 18 points, and reigning ADDC title holder Al Rajhi lying in 12th with 14 points.

Last year’s T3 winner Seth Quintero has moved up to Ultimate with Toyota Gazoo Racing this year, and also has some catching up to do, sitting 26th in the overall classification. Among the Challenger category (ex-T3), new team Taurus has signed Argentinian Nicolàs Cavigliasso, the former quad rider, with the second seat expected to be revealed soon. The new team is looking to challenge the estab-lished and dominant Can-Am and South Racing Can-Am teams.

Amongst the two-wheel entries, Hero Motosport’s Ross Branch, a civilian airline pilot in his profes-sional life, looks likely to be competing against the Duust Rally Racing team’s Jean-Loup Lepan - who was second in his category last year - and his teammate Konrad Dabrowski.

All eyes will be on Tobias Ebster, the nephew of ex-KTM rider and two-time winner of the ADDC, Heinz Kinigadner. Ebster, the winner in Rally2 last year at the ADDC, is known as Mini Kini, and was the revelation of the category. In the quads, Abdulaziz Ahli, the local rider who won all ADDC stages last year, races against his Saudi neighbour Hani Alnoumesi, also a dune specialist, and Poland’s Kamil Wisniewski, a regular on the international circuit.

Khalid Bin Sulayem, the EMSO’s President, commented: “We are looking forward to welcoming the second round of the World Rally-Raid Championship back to the UAE for a third consecutive year. More than anything, we are delighted that the route, in its path through the Liwa Oasis, will bring us to Mezaira’a again after a 22-year absence. This area is rich in local culture and was visited often by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE, who loved its natural beauty and its historical sites. Overall, our long-term partnership with the Abu Dhabi Sports Council extends beyond our work on the Desert Challenge, and embodies the strong progress we are making towards a bright future for the local community, centred around the sporting excellence of events held here.”

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative Court in Al Dhafra Region; with the support of Energy partner ADNOC Distribution; Automotive partner Al-Futtaim Toyota; Abu Dhabi Aviation; Al Ain Water; Governmental support from the Ministry of Defence & UAE Armed Forces , Abu Dhabi Police, Civil Defence, Abu Dhabi Distribution Co, Al Dhafra Region Municipality, and our media partner Abu Dhabi Sports TV. The event is organized by the Emirates Motorsports Organization.

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