International line-up of drivers and riders during the press conference at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
Gulf Today, Staff Reporter
Abu Dhabi Mohammed Ben Sulayem says the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, the spectacular event he founded 30 years ago, will fit perfectly into the new FIA World Rally-Raid Championship which takes cross country rallying into a new era next year.
Taking place under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in Al Dhafra Region, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge reaches a new milestone this week as the longest running cross-country rally in the Middle East.
“We thank Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan for his continued support and encouragement as we celebrate the rally’s 30th anniversary,” said Ben Sulayem, President of the Emirates Motorsports Organization (EMSO) and FIA Vice President for Sport.
“This has been vitally important, putting us in a strong position now from which we can look forward to an exciting new chapter for cross country rallying.”
Ben Sulayem, currently on FIA duties overseas, guided the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge into the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies in 1993, two years after its launch, and sees it as one of the elite events which can fully embrace the sport’s new direction.
The World Cup series will be replaced next year when the FIA, motorsports world governing body, introduces the new World Rally-Raid championship. The emphasis is on new, alternative and experimental technologies, in line with the FIA’s environmental strategy to support climate action, technology and innovation, and sustainable practices.
Major event sponsors, and an international line-up of drivers and riders contesting the 30th Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, were introduced during today’s press conference at Yas Marina Circuit, which was hosted by the EMSO’s CEO, Mahir Badri.
Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah, Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge champion in 2008 and 2016, and leader in this year’s FIA World Cup standings, and the UAE’s Khalid Al Qassimi, winner of his home event in 2017, attend the press briefing.
Holding second place in the FIA World Cup drivers’ standings, Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi seeks his first Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge as Emirati driver Yahya Al Helei extends a remarkable 30-year, 100 per cent appearance record in his home event.
He shared the press conference spotlight with son Mansour, who originally co-drove for his father before taking the wheel, as well as Molly Taylor, in the record books as the first female Australian Rally Champion, after becoming the youngest ever driver to win the series in 2016.
The top riders present on the occasion included Austria’s new FIM Cross-Country Rallies World champion Matthias Walkner, Emirati Mohammed Al Balooshi, the first rider from the GCC region to win the FIM Bajas World Cup title, and Poland’s six-times FIM World Cup quads champion, Rafal Sonik.
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