Odds against repeat wins for Vasilyev, Goncalves, Sonic as UAE’s classic desert rally passes three milestones

Paulo Goncalves action Vladimir Vasilyev action

Abu Dhabi, UAE, 28 March, 2015:  Russian driver Vladimir Vasilyev, Portuguese bikes star Paulo Goncalves and Polish quads rider Rafal Sonic are all chasing their places in the record books over the next five days as the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED BY Nissan passes three milestones.


In the 25-year history of the event only three drivers – the UAE’s Mohammed Mattar in the first two editions, Jean-Louis Schlesser and Stephane Peterhansel – have successfully defended their title.


Since the bikes category was introduced 20 years ago, seven-times winner Marc Coma of Spain and Frances’s former world FIM champion, Cyril Despres, are the only two riders to have achieved the feat.


And if Sonic manages to complete back-to-back wins when the Desert Challenge finishes at Yas Marina Circuit next Thursday afternoon, he will become the first competitor to do so in the ten-year involvement of quads.


After the 25th anniversary super special spectator stage which got the event officially under way this afternoon (Saturday) on Abu Dhabi’s superb Formula One circuit, the venue, and the conditions, for the rest of the event change dramatically as the 101 cars, buggies, bikes and quads head in to the spectacular desert of the Western Region of Al Garbia.


Starting at 9am tomorrow (Sunday) from Al Razeen, the 262 km Yas Marina Circuit Special Stage 1 provides the first major test for competitors and rally machinery on four and two wheels, finishing close to the rally’s bivouac beside the majestic Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort.

“It’s a very important stage because everyone wants to have a good start without running into any problems, and even for the most experienced competitors it takes time to adjust to the desert,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organisers.


“Winning the Desert Challenge once is tough enough, and very few competitors have managed to win it two years in a row so the task ahead for our defending champions is very difficult.”


Taking place under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Western region, the 25th Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is the second round of this year’s FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and the opening round of the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes.


The Nissan Patrol, the “Hero of All terrain in Life”, is positioned for the 12th year as the official vehicle of the event. The line-up of strategic partners includes the Ruler’s Court in the Western Region, Western Region Municipality, Abu Dhabi Municipality, the UAE Army, Abu Dhabi Police, National Ambulance Service, Nissan, Yas Marina Circuit, ADNOC, Abu Dhabi Aviation, Al Ain Mineral Water, Abu Dhabi Waste Management, Rotana and Centro Hotels – Yas Island, Qasr Al Sarab Resort, Explorer and DP World.


Never before have a driver and a rider recorded successive Desert Challenge victories in the same year, so the odds appear to be stacked against a trio of successful title defences this week for Vasilyev, Goncalves and Sonic.


Among those aiming to block the Russian driver’s patch to victory are Qatar’s 2008 winner Nasser Al Attiyah in a Mini, Brazillian third-seed Reinaldo Varela and talented Saudi contender Yazeed Al Rajhi, both driving a Toyota Hilux, as well as last year’s runner-up, Poland’s Adam Malysz, in another Mini.


Making his event debut, the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi swaps his conventional Citroen rally car for another Toyota Hilux, while fellow-Emirati Yaha Al Helei looks for another big performance in the Nissan Pick up he took to fourth place last year.


Goncalves produced a brilliant surge on the final stage last year to overhaul Coma and deny him an eighth Desert Challenge bikes crown, and the Spaniard is determined not to lose out again.


However, he could also come under pressure this time from Spain’s Joan Barreda Bort, Goncalves’s Honda buddy, as well as his own KTM team-mates, Dubai-based Sam Sunderland and Portugal’s Ruben Faria.


The biggest threat to FIM world champion Sonik in the battle of the quads could come from Qatar’s 2013 winner Mohammed Abu Issa.


Sunday’s Action Guide


  • Yas Marina Circuit SS 1 (262 km): Starts at 09:00 from Razeen, 50 kms south of Al Faya
  • Arjan – Route crosses the Al Dhafra road (through underpasses to N and S of the Arjan mast. (Approx 22 kms south of the Rainbow museum – approx 09:25hrs.
  • SS 1 Service at PC 1 (W/point N23 35.125/E54 33.390) is on the pipeline. Access from Al Dhafrah road near ADNOC, at White Sands grocery store. This store is 62.60km south after leaving the coastal highway (E11) at Exit 306. Access is via a 18 kms of hard track, First Moto competitor due at approximately 1015hrs.
  • PC 3 – (N23 20.060 E54 23.345) close to Al Dhafra road on East Side. Approx 11:00hrs
  • Yas Marina Circuit SS 1 Finish (Waypoint N23 07.556 E54 18.942)– on West side of Al Dhafra road approx 19 kms north of Hameem – first competitor due at approximately 1215hrs.


Monday’s Action Guide

  • ADNOC SS 2 (279 km): start is 40 kms north of Mizaira ADNOC gas station at Fodder Farm, on road to Madinat Zayed – first competitor starts the SS at 0800hrs.
  • Photo opportunity at PC 1 (Underpass)(W/point N23 07.943/E53 17.936) Gayathi Road (E15) 53 kms north of the roundabout junction with Liwa Crescent road. First Moto competitor due at approx 0900hrs.
  • Photo opportunity at PC 2 (Service & Moto refuel) (W/point– N23 13.901 E53 10.529 36 Kms up Gayathi Road (E15) north of the roundabout junction with Liwa Crescent road. First Moto competitor due at approx 0945hrs.
  • PC 3, route crosses main road at Geyathi/Liwa roundabout (N23 00.054 E53 25.407) at 1105 hrs and route continues parallel to south of main road , running east, with occasional good viewpoints, before heading into the desert
  • ADNOC SS 2 Finish is on Tal Morib road, approx 17 kms south of main crescent road at 1215 hrs