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FIA World Rally-Raid Championship rivals renew competition at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

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Dakar Rally rivalries will be renewed when the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge hosts the second round of the new FIA World Rally-Raid Championship from March 4th-10th.

Established as the brainchild of the new FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem back in 1991, the Middle East’s first long-distance cross-country event joined the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies for the first time in 1993 and has been a popular round of the series ever since.

Under the guidance of the FIA and the experienced management of A.S.O., the new FIA World Rally-Raid Championship fired into life this year with the inclusion of the Dakar Rally for the first time and many of the front-runners in Saudi Arabia are present in the UAE.

Based out of the Yas Marina race circuit on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi for pre-event formalities, before switching to a bivouac adjacent to the exclusive Qasr Al-Sarab desert resort, deep in the UAE’s Empty Quarter, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is traditionally fought out over five desert stages. This year’s route comprises around 62% of open desert and a total route of 1,948.66km, using some of the most spectacular and remotest sand dunes in the world.

Four-time Dakar winner Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah is a three-time winner of the Abu Dhabi event and starts as the top seed. The Qatari (85pts) arrives in the UAE with a single point lead in the Drivers’ Championship over nine-time WRC champion Sébastien Loeb (84pts).

Al-Attiyah was triumphant in the UAE’s Empty Quarter (Rub Al-Khali) with BMW in 2008 and with Toyota in 2016 and 2021. He will be hoping for a third success in a South African-prepared Toyota Hilux run by Overdrive Racing. He is partnered by his usual co-driver Mathieu Baumel, the current leader of the Co-Drivers’ Championship.

Loeb and co-driver Fabian Lurquin pushed Al-Attiyah all the way on the Dakar in their Prodrive Hunter and consistent stage performances and second place overall give the Frenchman an excellent footing on which to push for a first win in the UAE. He represents the Bahrain Raid Xtreme team that is currently 35points behind Toyota Gazoo Racing in the Manufacturers’ Championship standings.

Dakar legend Stéphane Peterhansel is a six-time winner of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, the Frenchman securing four wins with Mitsubishi (2002, 2003, 2005 and 2007) and two with Mini (2011 and 2019). Team Audi Sport is not registered for the FIA World Rally-Raid Championship this season but continues to develop the revolutionary Audi RS Q e-tron throughout the 2022 season and will tackle rounds of the series with Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz. Peterhansel teams up with Edouard Boulanger.

Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi rounded off the podium places at the Dakar in a second Toyota and is third in the title race on 51 points, but the Riyadh driver has suffered disappointing outings in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas rounds in Russia and Jordan since the Dakar and will be keen to return to good form in Abu Dhabi.

Other FIA World Rally-Raid T1 competition comes from the likes of Poland’s Jakub Przygonski (X-raid MINI JCW Team), Frenchman Matthieu Serradori (SRT Century CR6) and Argentina’s Sebastien Halpern in an Overdrive Racing-entered Toyota Hilux.

Both the FIA T3 and T4 categories have attracted an impressive number of entrants in recent months.

The Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team suffered mixed fortunes at the Dakar, but four Overdrive-built OT3s have been entered in T3 in Abu Dhabi for Cristina Gutierrez, Seth Quintero, Guillaume de Mevius and Mitch Guthrie Junior. Quintero set a record for the number of stage wins on a single Dakar in January, while Spaniard Gutierrez finished second behind early category leader and Dakar winner, Francisco Lopez.

OT3 by Overdrive currently holds fifth in the Manufacturers’ Championship, nine points behind fourth-placed MD Rallye Sport Optimus.

Chilean Lopez leads the T3 field in Abu Dhabi in his South Racing Can-Am, where he is joined by South Racing Middle East’s Thomas Bell, recent Jordan Baja winner Saleh Al-Saif, Germany’s Annett Fischer and Frenchman Jean-Luc Pisson in a PH Sport-run Zephyr. Lopez’s co-driver Juan Pablo Latrach currently leads the T3 Co-driver’s title race from Frenchman François Cazalet.

Lopez currently has 90 points in the FIA T3 standings. He heads Gutierrez by 18 points and third-placed Quintero by 27 points.

Talented American racer Austin Jones claimed the T4 win at the Dakar Rally and the South Racing Can-Am driver leads a field of registered Can-Ams that includes Lithuanian team-mate Rokas Baciuska, Chile’s Lucas Del Rio and the Polish duo of Marek and Michal Goczal in a pair of Cobant Energylandia Can-Ams run by South Racing. 

Jones arrives in the UAE with 83 points to his name and has a 15-point advantage over Marek Goczal. Baciuska and Michal Goczal are third and fourth. The American’s Brazilian co-driver Gustavo Gugelmin tops the T4 Co-driver’s standings from Poland’s Lukasz Laskawiec.


Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge  – leading entries entered in the FIA W2RC:

201. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (FRA)                                                              Toyota Hilux                 

202. Sébastien Loeb (FRA)/Fabian Lurquin (BEL)                                                                                      Prodrive Hunter BRX                                   

203. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Michael Orr (GBR)                                                                                       Toyota Hilux Overdrive                                    

204. Jakub Przygonski (POL)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU)                                                                              Mini John Cooper Works Buggy      

205. Mathieu Serradori (FRA)/Loic Minaudier (FRA)                                                                                 Century Buggy CR6                                    

206. Sebastien Halpern (ARG)/Bernardo Graue (ARG)                                                                               Toyota Hilux Overdrive


Timetable of events

Friday, March 4

Administration checks and scrutineering                   Yas Marina Circuit


Saturday, March 5

FIA scrutineering                                                         Yas Marina, 08.00hrs-15.00hrs

Pre-event press conference                                     Yas Marina, 09.30hrs


Sunday, March 6

Stage 1 (Abu Dhabi to Qasr Al-Sarab - 265.04km)          First competitor – 11.23hrs


Monday, March 7

Stage 2 (Qasr Al-Sarab to Qasr Al-Sarab – 318.02km)   First competitor – 08.00hrs


Tuesday, March 8

Stage 3 (Qasr Al-Sarab to Qasr Al-Sarab – 289.75km)   First competitor – 08.00hrs


Wednesday, March 9

Stage 4 (Qasr Al-Sarab to Qasr Al-Sarab – 251.93km)   First competitor – 08.00hrs


Thursday, March 10

Stage 5 (Qasr Al-Sarab to Abu Dhabi – 216.92km)      First competitor – 07.30hrs

Post-event press conference and prize giving             Yas Marina, 17.00hrs