Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi, Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah head for world rally title showdown in Abu Dhabi
The battle for the drivers’ title in the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies reaches a critical point in the 2021 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, with the top four contenders heading for a showdown in the penultimate round of the series.
Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, on 61 points, leads the championship standings from Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi (44 points), with Argentinian Lucio Alvarez (42 points) and Russian Denis Krotov (37.5 points) also in the hunt and contesting the 30th anniversary event in the UAE from Nov. 6-11.
Partnered by Mathieu Baumel in a Toyota Hilux, Al-Attiyah knows that a third Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge career victory following his win in last month’s Rally of Morocco could be enough to clinch the crown.
Al-Rajhi and Irish co-driver Michael Orr, in a Toyota Hilux Overdrive, have other ideas, and will take confidence from the fact that their last visit to the UAE in February produced victory in the Dubai International Baja.
A World Cup first round win in Kazakhstan, meanwhile, underlined the credentials of Alvarez and Spanish navigator Armand Monleón in another Toyota Hilux, and a big performance among the Al-Dhafra dunes could boost their title hopes, with the final event to follow in Saudi next month.
Driving a MINI John Cooper Works Rally, Krotov certainly cannot be discounted, particularly as he is co-driven by compatriot Konstantin Zhiltsov, who has twice guided Vladimir Vasilyev to wins in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
As the cars, buggies, bikes and quads sweep across the Al-Dhafra dunes, Abu Dhabi Aviation helicopters will provide potentially life-saving aerial search and rescue support for the medical crews on permanent standby to be taken to the aid of competitors in trouble.
Nader Ahmed Al-Hammadi, chairman of Abu Dhabi Aviation, said: “Abu Dhabi Aviation seeks to secure elements of strength and safety for the success of this year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge by providing air support for the global event (with) three advanced helicopters (Bell 412 and 212) used for logistical support and air ambulance purposes, in addition to search and rescue operations.
“This makes the participation of the Abu Dhabi Aviation’s aircraft vital in giving contestants and observers a sense of safety,” he added. “Our presence is considered a key element of the rally’s success given the harsh environmental conditions represented by the desert, especially (as) the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is the longest desert rally in the Middle East,”
Mohammed Ben Sulayem, president of the EMSO and FIA vice president for sport, said: “We’re indebted to Abu Dhabi Aviation for the vital role they play, year after year, in ensuring the safety of competitors in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. This is a major factor behind the event’s long running success.”
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 is also the final round of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship for bikes.
The rally is supported by the ruler’s representative, the UAE Armed Forces, Abu Dhabi Aviation, Abu Dhabi Police, ADNOC, Yas Island, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi Municipality, Al-Dhafra Region Municipality, Al-Ain Water and Tadweer.