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Gulf racers ready to shine under the desert sun in the 2012 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

Local knowledge and national pride to spur Gulf nationals on to success

Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE all represented

ABU DHABI (UAE). Friday, March 30, 2011:Many of the Gulf’s most talented cross-country rally racers are among the 30-strong line-up of Arab nationals gearing up for the 22nd edition of the world’s ultimate desert rally, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, which starts on Sunday (1st April) with the action-packed Super Special Stage at Marina Mall in the capital.

Entrants from Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE will be looking to benefit from years of experience tackling the demanding terrain and technically challenging sand dunes of the UAE’s Empty Quarter desert as they take on the world’s best rally drivers and riders.

And the action starts with Sunday’s Super Special Stage, a free-to-attend event that is set against the spectacular backdrop of the city of Abu Dhabi, and located between Marina Mall and the Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club. Starting at 3pm, the specially designed two-kilometre off-road course establishes the starting order for Stage 1 of the rally on Monday, and allows spectators to get up close to some of the toughest machinery and racers on the planet.

“The Arabic entrants competing at this year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge are a credit to the Middle East,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE) and vice-president of the FIA. “The Desert Challenge is a uniquely UAE event, which has built its success on the participation of local and regional racers, and this is something which fills us with tremendous pride every year.”

One of the region’s most famous rally drivers, Emirati Khalifa Al-Mutaiwei will be challenging hard for a coveted podium place in the car category. Al-Mutaiwei, who this year returned to international cross-country rallying after an eight-year absence, is the 2004 FIA World Cup champion and will be racing with the celebrated German X-raid team in a Mini All4 Racing.

Saudi Arabia will be represented by Ibrahim Al Muhanna, whose rallying experience includes the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, the Saudi Hail Rally, the Qatar Group Rally and the Pharaohs Rally of Egypt. “The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is the most beautiful of the Arabian rallies. Once you’ve tried it, you want to compete in it again and again,” he explained.

Another Saudi racer heading to the UAE for the Desert Challenge is Yasir Saeidan, who will be tackling the dunes in a Polaris XP900 Buggy. Flying the flag for Qatar, and racing under the banner of the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF), will be Mubarak Al Hajri, while Kuwaiti Ebraheem AlMoudahka will also be challenging hard in his Mitsubishi Pajero alongside co-driver Waleed AlMoudahka.

Among the Emirati contingent will be well-known racer, Yahya Bel Helei. He returns to continue a remarkable record of competing in every Desert Challenge since 1990. One of the most experienced off-road drivers in the UAE, he has a series of wins behind him in both bike and car categories and arrives fresh from taking a category podium place in last weekend’s Saudi Hail Rally. Bel Helei will again be partnered by compatriot Khalid Al Kendi, who has experience as a co-driver in the World Rally Championship.

Bel Helei’s son, Mansoor entered the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge as a driver for the very first time last year. At just nineteen years old, he successfully guided his Nissan Patrol through to the finish, a remarkable achievement for the young Abu Dhabi resident. This year, he will be back for more alongside co-driver Ali Mirza.

Last year, Mohammed Al Shamsi and Atif Al Zarouni had looked odds-on to gain a one-two for the UAE in the quad bikes category after impressive performances in the lead-up to the final leg. But mechanical problems plagued both riders on the final day to deny them podium places and both riders will be looking to go one step further this year.

Leading UAE biker, Mohamed Balooshi will be returning for his second Desert Challenge as part of the KTM UAE Rally Team. Earlier this year he made history by becoming the first Emirati to represent his country in the motorcycle category of the Dakar Rally. He can expect to be pushed hard by Khalid Al Falasi, who finished third in February’s Qatar National Baja and will be riding a Yamaha WR 450 F.

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge attracts many of the most famous rally drivers and riders from across the globe, this year including Marc Coma, Helder Rodriguez, Ruben Faria and Jean-Louis Schlesser. In 2012, the 22nd edition of the rally will also welcome more women and South American participants than ever before, in addition to the traditionally strong line-up from across the Middle East.

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of the United Arab Emirates (ATCUAE) and is held under the under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Western Region. It is backed by a high-profile line-up of supporters that includes the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, Nissan and ADNOC.