Cross-Country Rallies – Abu Dhabi hosts the ultimate desert challenge for the FIA World Cup contenders

  • gb

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, the penultimate round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge (November 6-11) is set to host the penultimate round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies and this 30th anniversary edition will again push competitors to the limit as they power over some of the toughest and most dramatic terrain the world has to offer. Towering dunes in the famed Rub Al Khali, or Empty Quarter, characterise the largest uninterrupted expanse of desert on the globe, and the front-runners will be looking to secure maximum points as the series heads towards a decisive phase.

The Toyota Gazoo Racing crew of Nasser Al-Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel head the provisional entry list courtesy of leading the FIA World Cup standings. The duo have notched up two victories in the Hilux this season and need another top result to extend their 17 point advantage in the classification. The Qatari/French pair won the event in 2016, with Al-Attiyah also claiming victory in 2008.

Yazeed Al Rajhi, newly-crowned champion of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas, and Britain’s Michael Orr have been chasing hard but a victory has so far eluded them this season. The Saudi Arabian holds second in the standings and really needs to climb the top step of the podium to maintain the pressure on their Toyota rivals and keep Lucio Alvarez and Armand Monleon at bay. Piloting another Hilux, the third-placed Argentinean is only two points further adrift of Al Rajhi after a maiden World Cup win in Kazakhstan with his Spanish co-driver alongside him.

Behind the trio of Toyotas are a quartet of MINIs. The Russian crew of Denis Krotov and Konstantin Zhiltsov will be in the first of three John Cooper Works Buggies and have had top results on both Rally Kazakhstan and the Silk Way Rally this year. Krotov is fourth in the standings and will start ahead of Jakub Przygonski and Timo Gottschalk. The Polish/German crew were thwarted by a broken drive shaft on their last outing in Morocco, but will be back in action to show their pace in the MINI. Argentineans Sebastian Halpern and Bernardo Graue were fifth in Morocco and will start ahead of the Russian MINI John Cooper Works Rally crew of Victor Khoroshavtsev/Anton Nikolaev. 

T3 is represented by seven crews led by Cristina Gutierrez in the Overdrive OT3. The Spaniard, navigated by François Cazalet, has an 11.5-point advantage in the category, having won two of the four rounds to date. Her nearest rival, Fernando Alvarez – also from Spain – has been chasing her hard throughout the season and he now needs to better his three second positions to push Gutierrez to the finish line. Pavel Lebedev remains in the mix, the Russian a further 4.5 points adrift.

Twelve T4 competitors are scheduled to take the start with America’s Austin Jones leading the way. The Can-Am Maverick driver heads the standings by 25 points after wins in Spain and Kazakhstan and needs to maintain form to keep Dutchman Kees Koolen at bay. Eugenio Amos, in another Maverick, is just three points further behind and the Italian will line-up ahead of a host of other top contenders in the category.

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge has also attracted a number of entrants keen to test their 2022 machinery. While they will be running outside the classification and not eligible for points, Erik Van Loon will continue to develop Toyota’s T1+ machinery and Martin Prokop - the 2018 winner - will be fielding his similar spec Ford Raptor RS Cross Country. Khalid Al Qassimi - another outright winner in T1 machinery - Guillaume de Mevius, Seth Quintero and Marco Carrara will be testing their respective T3 machinery ahead of next season.



Total distance   

1,948.66 km

Selective section distance:

1,357.35 km (68.82%)

Number of selective sections:




Nasser Al Attiyah/Matthieu Baumel

Toyota Hilux

Yazeed Al Rajhi/Michael Orr

Toyota Hilux Overdrive

Lucio Alvarez/Armand Monleon

Toyota Hilux Overdrive

Denis Krotov/Konstantin Zhiltsov

MINI John Cooper Works Buggy

Jakub Przygonski/Timo Gottschalk

MINI John Cooper Works Buggy

Sebastian Halpern/Bernardo Graue

MINI John Cooper Works Buggy

Victor Khoroshavtsev/Anton Nikolaev

MINI John Cooper Works Rally

Yahya Al Helei/Khalid Al Kendi

Nissan Pick Up

Khalid Al Jafla/Charly Gotlib

Toyota Hilux

Abdullah Al Zubair/Faisal Al Raisi

Jeep Wrangler



Saturday November 6


Scrutineering, Yas Marina

From 08:00 hrs

Pre-event press conference, Yas Marina

10:00 hrs


Sunday November 7 – Leg 1


Start of SS1 (262.02 kilometres)

09:00 hrs

First car arrives bivouac

13:08 hrs


Monday November 8 – Leg 2


Start of SS2 (333.43 kilometres)

08:00 hrs

First car arrives bivouac

12:22 hrs


Tuesday November 9 – Leg 3


Start of SS3 (293 kilometres)     

08:00 hrs

First car arrives bivouac

12:32 hrs


Wednesday November 10 – Leg 4


Start of S4 (251.98 kilometres)  

08:00 hrs

First car arrives bivouac

11:47 hrs


Thursday November 11 – Leg 5


Start of S5 (216.92 kilometres)  

07:30 hrs

First car arrives Yas Marina

12:30 hrs

Podium ceremony and prize-giving, Yas Marina

17:00 hrs

FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies – Classifications: