Qatar’s Nasser al-Attiyah is aiming for victory in next month’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge to reinforce his bid for a second Dakar Rally triumph.
Al-Attiyah will contest the second round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies in the UAE from April 4 to 11 alongside Spanish co-driver Lucas Cruz in the new Qatar Rally Team buggy which made an impact on its competitive debut in South America two months ago. The Qatari driver sees the Desert Challenge as a crucial test for the car en route to a major assault on next year’s Dakar Rally, which he won two years ago, and he is determined to come out on top in the spectacular UAE event, which has allowed him only one victory to date, five years ago.
“It is a very important rally for me, and it’s also a very difficult one,” said al-Attiyah, during a break from preparations in Mexico for this weekend’s third round of the World Rally Championship.
“It’s a great test for the buggy, and I’m looking forward to it. We tested the car in Spain last week and I’m very impressed with it. We want to win the Desert Challenge, but it won’t be easy. There are a lot of big dunes to get through, and it is always tough.”
Taking place under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Western Region, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge doubles up as the first of six rounds in the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship for bikes.
The event’s high-profile line-up of strategic partners and supporters includes the Diwan of the Ruler’s Representative for the Western Region, Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management, Nissan, ADNOC, Abu Dhabi Aviation and Qasr Al Sarab Resort by Anantara.
Organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the event forms part of a hectic 2013 programme for al-Attiyah, who is contesting both the FIA World and Middle East Rally Championships, in addition to his cross country rally programme.
“Nasser is a one of the top drivers in cross country rallying and we’re always very happy to welcome him to the Desert Challenge,” said Dr Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the ATCUAE and founder of the event. “We’ve heard a lot about his new buggy, and it will be very interesting to see how it performs in our desert conditions.”
This season’s demands have already taken their toll on al-Attiyah. After an exhausting bid in the Dakar, where he was within reach of the lead before a broken water pump put him out of the event, he flew home to Qatar and straight into the opening round of the FIA Middle East series.
While he won the event, he finished it “in bad shape”, suffering from flu and muscle cramp, and was forced to pull out of this season’s second WRC round in Sweden, although he has since fully recovered and is relishing another tilt at the UAE’s classic cross country rally.
Starting and finishing at Yas Marina Circuit and running entirely within the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the 2013 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge provides a stern test for competitors and rally machinery on a dramatic journey through the giant dunes of the Western Region of Al Garbia.