Best drivers for the desert challenge

A powerful team of the world’s best riders and drivers will gather in the capital of the United Arab Emirates for the second round of the new World Rally Raid Championship.

The Emirates Motorsports Organization (EMSO) has announced a roster of 132 competitors for the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, which starts at Yas Marina Circuit on March 6.

Nasser Al Attiyah, early leader in the race to become the first rally-raid world champion, is seeded in a Toyota Hilux as the UAE rally becomes one of five elite events making up the series.

Among his biggest rivals in assembling 38 cars is Sebastien Loeb, winner of a record nine World Rally Championship titles, who is making his Desert Challenge debut in the Prodrive Hunter which he took to second place behind the Qatari in the first Dakar rally.

Stephane Peterhansel is aiming for a record seventh win in cars driving an Audi RS Q e-tron at the 31st edition of the rally, which promises five days of desert rally-raid competition in the dunes of the Al region. Dhafra.

“We are delighted to be hosting the World Rally Raid Championship for the first time in the United Arab Emirates,” said newly elected EMSO President Khalid Bin Sulayem.

Other top contenders include Saudi Yazeed Al Rajhi driving a Toyota, Polish Jakub Przygonski in a MINI, Frenchman Mathieu Serradori in a CenturyCR6 and Argentinian Sebastian Halpern in another Toyota.

Host country’s Yahya Al Helei cracks top 10 seed with his Nissan Pick Up as he extends his record of 100% appearances in his home event. Another Emirati driver, Khalid Aljafla, will be in action in the T3 category in an EVO 3.

The four-decade rally record is packed with motorcycle world champions, including last year’s winner, Austrian star Matthias Walkner, who returns to the UAE to defend the title he won on his KTM in November .

No rider knows the demanding desert landscape of the Al Dhafra region better than Sam Sunderland, who leads the world championship standings and is chasing a third victory in the event. In January, he made history by taking his first Dakar victory for the Gas Gas Factory Racing team.

Two other previous winners in Abu Dhabi, Australian Toby Price on KTM and Chilean Honda rider Pablo Quintanilla, return in search of second victories. Argentinian Kevin Benavides on a KTM and his brother Luciano on a Husqvarna will also be there.

The host nation’s best hope of victory may lie with Abdulaziz Ahli defending the quads crown he won last year.

This year also sees an entry of 16 T3 prototype vehicles, led by the CAN-AM Maverick X3 of Chilean Francisco Lopez Contardo and the Overdrive OT3 of Spaniard Cristina Gutierrez and American Seth Quintero.

The T4 class will see the top three in the current standings, with American Austin Jones, Lithuanian Rokas Baciuska and Poland’s Marek Goczal all competing in Can-Am Mavericks.

The four-wheel contingent is complemented by the mighty trucks, traditionally the backbone of off-road rally teams as support vehicles, and now with their own T5 racing class.

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