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Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Contenders Ready For Battle

ABU DHABI (UAE). Thursday, March 29, 2012: Some of the hottest names  in international and Middle Eastern rallying were today (Thursday, March 29th)  joined by race founder Mohammed Ben Sulayem to launch the 22nd edition of the world’s ultimate desert rally, the 2012 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

Across the road from the world-renowned Yas Marina Circuit, Ben Sulayem and biking world champion Helder Rodriguez were joined at the official press conference at the Rotana Yas Island hotel by top UAE competitors Khalifa Al-Mutaiwei, Mohammed Balooshi and Yahya Bel Helei, as well as representatives from some of the Desert Challenge’s leading partners.

Ahead of the action proper, which starts next week, the line-up of stars outlined their ambitions for this year’s edition of one of the world’s most demanding cross-country rallies. And motorsport fans will be in for a real treat with one of the best line-ups of international motorcycle racers ever assembled in the UAE, as well as top class line-up of Arabic racing talent to challenge the visiting competitors in the car category.

Demonstrating the widespread appeal of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, 2012 will also see record numbers of South American and female competitors test themselves to their limits across the massive dunes of the Liwa desert. Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Venezuela will all be providing representatives, while Women’s FIM Cross Country Rallies Champion for the past three years, Camelia Liparoti will spearhead the female assault on the course.

“In its 22nd year, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is once again delivering a first-class field of competitors to the UAE,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, Vice-president of the FIA and president of rally organisers, the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE). “We are proud that so many competitors will be here to enjoy what is a unique Abu Dhabi experience. The Desert Challenge consists of five days battling some of the toughest terrain and highest temperatures in the world, endowing it with its reputation as a ‘Must Do’ event for all serious rally drivers and riders.”

Current FIM world biking champion, Rodriguez is a big fan of the Middle East’s number one cross-country rally: “The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is my favourite rally. But it certainly won't be easy this year, and looking at the entry list it's great to see that most of the top riders will be there. I love racing on sand, and this rally mixes superb routes with amazing support and hospitality.”

2004 FIA World Cup champion Al-Mutaiwei, who recently announced his return to international cross-country rallying after an eight-year absence, will race with the celebrated German X-raid team. He commented: “It’s great to back and involved in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, and I just want to focus on doing my best.”

Bel Helei is one of the UAE’s most experienced off-road drivers, and a rally ever-present since his Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge debut in 1990. In that time he has achieved a number of wins in both car and bike categories, and last year narrowly missed out on a podium place. This year he will be racing in the car category against his son Mansoor, who made his driving debut in the rally in 2011. “the Desert Challenge is the Middle East’s number one rally and this is the sole reason why my son and I have invested so much money in taking part,” said Bel Helei.

In the motorcycle category, Mohammed Balooshi is looking to improve on his 2011 performance and target a podium position. A familiar face on the Arabic motocross scene, earlier this year he became the first UAE national to enter the biking category of the Dakar Rally. “Over the past year I have gained so much experience, riding alongside legendary rally stars, and I’m really looking forward to getting a strong result next week.”

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Western Region, and with support from a number of key partners including the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, ADNOC and Nissan - the all-terrain Nissan Patrol, dubbed ‘The Hero of All Terrain’, is the official vehicle of the Desert Challenge.

His Excellency Saeed Mohammed Bin Rasas, Executive Director for the Citizen Affairs department at the Ruler’s Representative’s Court in the Western Region, was present alongside Mohammed Al Balooshi of the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority and Arwa Al Kindi from Abu Dhabi Aviation. “The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is a very important event for the Western Region as it provides global exposure for our beautiful homeland and its breath-taking desert scenery and helps to promote tourism,” explained Bin Rasas.

“Nissan has supported the world-class Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge for nine years but this year has particular resonance as it is the 60th anniversary year of the Nissan Patrol – a vehicle steeped in the heritage of this region,” said Syed Ahmed, GM Marketing, Nissan Middle East. “The ‘Hero of All Terrain’ is not only one of the most popular SUVs in the region but one of the star performers in this ultimate challenge of durability. In this landmark year for the legendary model it is fitting that Nissan Patrol should not only be the official car of the Challenge but also give its name to the first of the event’s stages.”

The Desert Challenge is also one of the world’s most prestigious cross-country rallies, continually attracting the best rally drivers and riders from across the globe. This year it will take place from April 1-6, and consists of three categories: bikes, quads and cars. Some 160 competitors from 35 countries are set to take part in the event, which serves as FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship season-opener and the second round of the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup.

Starting and finishing in the capital city itself, the 2,000km of stages that make up the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge take in of the breathtaking dunes and stunning scenery of the Rub Al Khali (Empty Quarter) in the Western Region of Al Gharbia. As if the beautiful venue is not enough, the base camp for the Desert Challenge is located alongside the luxurious, five-star Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara.