ABU DHABI: Saudi Arabia’s top driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and new FIM world bikes champion Matthias Walkner have both set their sights on a maiden victory in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge when the event marks its 30th anniversary next week.
Partnered by British co-driver Michael Orr in a Toyota Hilux Overdrive, Al-Rajhi is aiming for a second triumph in the UAE this year after the pair combined to win the Dubai International Baja back in February.
Austrian KTM star Walkner, who secured this year’s FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship with second place in Morocco last month, hopes to go one better as the 2021 series reaches its conclusion in the UAE.
The Emirates Motorsports Organization today announced the international entry list for the 2021 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, which gets under way in the UAE capital next Saturday with the drivers’ title in the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies hanging in the balance.
Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah (61pts), who pursues a third Desert Challenge success, will be up against his three remaining title rivals in Al-Rajhi (44pts), Argentinian Lucio Alvarez (42pts) and Russian Denis Krotov (37.5pts) in the penultimate World Cup round.
Al Attiyah, accompanied by Mathieu Baumel in a Toyota Hilux, could also come under pressure from Poland’s 2018 World Cup drivers’ champion, Jakub Przygonski, in a MINI John Cooper Works Buggy.
Over the years, Yahya Al-Helei has often out performed some of the world’s top drivers in his home event, and the Emirati, remarkably, starts his 30th consecutive Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge alongside Khalid Al Kendi in a Nissan Pick up.
With the final World Cup round remaining in Saudi Arabia next month, two other FIA titles will be in the balance during Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, and rally founder Mohammed Ben Sulayem anticipates another fiercely competitive five days of action on the Al Dhafra desert stages.
“There is always a lot at stake in this event, and the fact that we’ve reached our 30th edition adds to the appeal of the rally,” said Ben Sulayem, President of the Emirates Motorsports Organization and FIA Vice President for Sport. “It’s a memorable occasion for everyone taking part, from the top competitors to the many volunteers who help to make it happen.”
Spain’s Cristina Gutierrez, who leads the FIA T3 title battle in an Overdrive OT3, can expect pressure from her three closest challengers, compatriot Fernando Alvarez, Russian Pavel Lebedev and another Spaniard, Jose Luis Pena Campo.
It’s a similar story in the FIA T4 category, with World Cup leader Austin Jones from the US looking to fight off Dutchman Kees Koolen, Italy’s Eugenio Amos and Poland’s Aron Domzala, the top four all at the wheel of CAN-AM Mavericks.
Ross Branch, the rider from Botswana who won this year’s FIM World Championship opening round in Kazakhstan, joins fellow Yamaha stars Andrew Short and Adrien Van Beveren in trying to prevent a 22nd KTM bikes triumph in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
Among the leading Arab riders relishing another chance to rival the top factory team stars are the UAE’s Mohammed Al Balooshi, winner of the 2018 FIM Bajas World Cup who has just finished fourth this year, Kuwait’s Shatti Abdullah and Saudi’s Alghuneim Mishal.
Italian Carlo Cabini starts the event on a Honda leading both the FIM Rally 2 Group 1 standings as well as the Adventure Trophy category for riders competing without any assistance.
Meanwhile, Poland’s multiple world quads champion Rafal Sonik must fight off Argentina’s Manuel Andujar, his big rival in this year’s FIM title race, if he is to record a third Desert Challenge victory.
Competing in the event for the first time in the FIM SSV category are two Israeli crews, Roy Bartov alongside Guy Roy, and Tal and David Galimidi, in a pair of Can-Am Maverick X3s.