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LADIES FISHING CATCHES ON IN ABU DHABI

The first ever Abu Dhabi Ladies Fishing Championship saw 96 women competing in an event which now looks set to become an annual fixture on the capital’s water sports calendar.

The six-strong team led by Mariam Al Hammadi emerged as winners followed by teams led by Mariam Al Hatem as runners up and Reem Ali in third position.

Hosted by Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club, the hub of water sport activity in the capital, the championship was held in conjunction with the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies

Sports Academy (FBMA).

“We were very pleased with the response we received to this new event and impressed with the spirit and enthusiasm of all those who took part,” said Salem Al Remeithi, General Manager of ADIMSC. “The club and FBMA are committed to encouraging more women to experience fishing as a sport, and we hope the championship will grow in popularity in the years ahead.”

The event, which attracted a mix of 16 nationalities, was staged with medical sponsorship by Al Salama Hospital and the added support of Fazaa Voluntary Team. The boats gathered at the ADIMSC marina on Saturday morning before moving 50 miles offshore for hook and line and rod fishing.

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PRUCHA CLAIMS VICTORY AS ABU DHABI LAUNCHES MOTOSURF WORLD CUP SEASON IN STYLE

Former NHL star says UAE capital gives series new dimension

Petr Prucha, the former Czech professional ice hockey player whose NHL career was cut short by injury, believes Abu Dhabi is a perfect fit for the latest addition to its international water sport calendar.

Prucha, the ex-New York Rangers and Phoenix Coyotes forward, was in sparkling form as he won the opening round of this year’s UIM MotoSurf World Cup as the UAE capital welcomed the series into the Middle East for the first time at the weekend.

After eclipsing defending World Cup champion and fellow Czech Lukas Záhorský with back-to-back race wins in the men’ finals, Prucha said: “When we found out that the season was starting here we were all very happy because we had heard so many good things about Abu Dhabi.

“This is the perfect venue to start the series when it’s so cold in Europe. It’s an ideal destination for the World Cup and a natural venue for racing. It gives the series a new dimension.”

Hosted by Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club, the three-day event came to a climax on Saturday after two days of initial qualifying and heats.

Průcha, who helped his country win the 2005 ice hockey world championship, dominated. He raced away in the men’s finals with a double victory from Záhorský, with Slovakian Sebastian Kubinec claiming third place in both races to take the other podium place.

Reigning womens’ world champion Aneta Šacherová sensed an overall triumph after clinching the first of the women’s finals. But big rival Martina Bravencova fought back to take outright victory by virtue of her win in the second, the results of the last race being decisive in the event of a tie.

H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Sultan Bin Khalifa Al-Nahyan, Vice President and CEO of ADIMSC, presented the trophies during the official awards ceremony at the club.

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DESPRES, SUNDERLAND SET EARLY PACE AS SANDSTORM TURNS DESERT CHALLENGE INTO SURVIVAL BATTLE

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Competitors face wall of sand as first of five demanding desert stages sets tough pace

Cyril Despres and Sam Sunderland emerged as the early pacesetters in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Powered by Nissan today as a heavy sandstorm turned the opening leg into a battle for survival.

High winds churning up a wall of sand made visibility a constant problem as the 262km Yas Marina Circuit Stage wound its way through the dunes towards it conclusion at the bivouac, the rally’s desert base for the next four days on the fringe of the Rub Al Khali.

Partnered by Spain’s Daniel Oliveras in a Mini John Cooper Works Buggy , Frenchman Despres, five time a Desert Challenge bikes winner, made a positive start in pursuit of his first cars triumph at his second attempt on four wheels.

He completed the stage holding a 5 mins 45 secs advantage over Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke and Belgian co-driver Tom Colsoul in a Toyota Hilux Overdrive.

Chasing a sixth cars victory, eight years after his last and this time with wife and former rally star Andrea as co-driver, Stephane Peterhansel was just 1 min 58 secs further away in third in a Mini John Cooper Works Rally.

Czech defending champion Martin Prokop and Viktor Chytka held fourth in a Ford Raptor RS from Dubai Baja winners Jakub Przygonski and Timo Gottschalk in another Mini. The UAE’s Khalid Al Qassimi and Xavier Panseri completed the top six in an Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR.

While conditions were thoroughly demanding for the 34 drivers who started the second round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies, they were particularly tough on the 33 bike and quads riders contesting the opening round of the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship.

Sunderland, the 2017 Desert Challenge and Dakar Rally winner, produced a hugely impressive performance to lead by 6 mins 9 secs from Andrew Short, the Texan quickly making an impact in cross country rallying after a rock star career in American Supercross and Motocross.

Chile’s Jose Cornejo was 37 seconds away in third with another young rising star, Argentinian Argentinean Luciano Benavides, 2 mins 21 secs further behind, just ahead of elder brother Kevin.

UAE-based Mark Ackerman completed the top six while top Emirati rider Mohammed Al Balooshi had a rough day, finishing more than 42 minutes off the pace in eighth position.

“It was a day when we saw just how tough and demanding the Desert Challenge can be” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE and FIA Vice President for Sport.

Taking place under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in Al Dafrah Region, the event is supported Abu Dhabi Aviation, Abu Dhabi Police, ADNOC, Al Ain Water, Al Dhafra Region Ruler’s Representative Court, National Ambulance, Nissan, United Arab Emirates Armed Forces and Yas Marina Circuit.

Reaching the end of the stage, Despres said: “It has been a long time since I started a stage with a storm and strong winds as we had here today. I could not see the crest of the dunes easily. It was challenging.

“This was our first mission with new co-driver Daniel and we are getting to know each other. Also, I am not used to the desert you have here in Abu Dhabi, I need to get back and learn how to read the tracks much better.”

Ten Brinke said: “It was a good day today. We started fourth so there were some good tracks to follow. We burst a tyre after jumping a dune and lost 3 or 4 minutes finding a safe spot to change it.”

Stephane Peterhansel, whose initial Desert Challenge success came as a rider back in 1996, had been unsure until 24 hours before the start whether wife Andrea would be alongside him in view of her problems with car sickness. Reaching the end of the stage he said: “It was a good day. The car suffered no problems. The husband and wife team are doing well, and there were no sickness problems.”

Sunderland completed the stage to say: “I found the first leg difficult, battling low visibility in the sandstorm right from the start till the end. I tried to get a good rhythm throughout and avoid mistakes where possible.”

Short said: “I was really fortunate to ride behind Sam today as he knows the terrain very well. It’s my first time in the Desert Challenge and I felt lucky with the weather. I was with a good group of riders and the wind cleared our tracks which would have made it more difficult for those behind us.”

Cornejo declared: “Today was really tough and with the wind it made it more difficult to anticipate the dunes. With this being my first time the cloudiness was an extra challenge and I had issues finding my rhythm but I’m still looking forward to the next four days.”

Reflecting on a challenging opening leg, Balooshi said: “I started second but Sam managed to catch me then (Kevin) Benavides and I got stuck a couple of times. It wasn’t meant to be for me. I thought the Desert Challenge would have been an easier experience after the Dakar rally but it was extremely tough. But I did enjoy myself out there, it was a great challenge.”

Leading positions after Yas Marina Circuit Stage 1 (provisional):

Cars

  1. Cyril Despres / Daniel Oliveras (FRA / ESP) / Mini John Cooper Works Buggy 3:39:15.0
  2. Bernhard Ten Brinke / Tom Colsoul (NDL / BEL) / Toyota Hilux Overdrive 3:45:00.0
  3. Stephane Peterhansel / Andrea Peterhansel (FRA / DEU) / MINI JCWorks Rally 3:46:58.0
  4. Martin Prokop / Viktor Chytka (CZE / CZE) / Ford Raptor RS Cross Country 3:50:01.0
  5. Jakub Przygonski / Timo Gottschalk (POL / DEU) / MINI John Cooper Works Buggy 3:54:02.0
  6. Khalid Al Qassimi / Xavier Panseri (ARE / FRA) / Peugeot 3008 DKR 3:54:24.0
  7. Aron Domzala / Maciej Marton (POL / POL) / Toyota Hilux Overdrive 3:57:10.0
  8. Casey Currie / Laurent Lichtleuchter (USA / FRA) / CAN AM Maverick X3 4:04:35.0
  9. Reinaldo Varela / Gustavo Gugelmin (BRA / BRA) / CAN AM Maverick X3 4:05:43.0
  10. Vladimir Vasilyev / Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS / RUS) / BMW X3 4:08:08.0

Bikes

  1. Sam Sunderland (GBR) / KTM 450 Rally Factory / 1 3:40:41.0
  2. Andrew Short (USA) / HUSQVARNA FR 450 / 1 3:46:50.0
  3. Jose Cornejo (CHL) / Honda CRF 450 Rally / 1 3:47:27.0
  4. Luciano Benavides (ARG) / KTM 450 Rally Factory / 1 3:49:48.0
  5. Kevin Benavides (ARG) / Honda CRF 450 Rally / 1 3:55:08.0
  6. Mark Ackerman (ZAF) / HUSQVARNA F 450 RR / 1 4:21:12.0
  7. Ryan Blair (GBR) / HUSQVARNA F 450 RR / 1 4:21:30.0
  8. Mohammed Al Balooshi (ARE) / KTM 450 Rally Replica / 1 4:23:30.0
  9. David McBride (GBR) / KTM 450 Rally / 1 4:41:47.0
  10. Mohammed Meshari Jaffar (KWT) / KTM 450 Rally Replica / 1 4:44:56.0

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge powered by Nissan, remaining rally itinerary:

1 April:   Al Ain Water Stage 2 (222.80km) – starting 6.00am

2 April:  Nissan Stage 3 (297.97km) – starting 6.15am

3 April:  ADNOC Stage 4 (286.10km) – starting 6.00am

4 April:   Abu Dhabi Aviation Stage 5 (214.47km) – starting 6.25am

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Armando Cabba : Dubai’s New Art Intrigue 

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Art Dubai 2019 has made the city a major mark on the art world map. Every March for 13 years Dubai welcomes galleries, collectors, and artists both local and international. As the creative buzz slowly fades, one name is often overheard and that is Canadian artist Armando Cabba.
Renowned for his portraiture, the contemporary painter is incredibly multifaceted in both style and subject matter. Cabba’s depictions of his models instill a feeling of intimacy while his self-portrait provokes an internal dialogue with the viewer. It seems no matter what the artist creates, we are presented with a piece of himself. Most visual artists succeed in portraying their narratives, yet Cabba brings us to a new level where his feelings become woven into our own emotions as if he’s been a part of us for our entire lives. That experience is called being human.

Outside of the studio, Armando is openly engaged in current topics and has been very outspoken regarding mental health. Based on his social media and blog posts, the artist remains honest which gives him a tangible quality with his audience. There’s no sterile selection of media, but rather a very unfiltered look into the man himself that coincides with his art.

Looking beyond his work, what makes Armando a very interesting up and coming artist is the fact people are mentioning him despite him or his work not being present in Art Dubai 2019. Among the many talented artists participating, Cabba’s name was being heard. It’s only natural for Dubai’s collectors and curators to be intrigued by a young artist with that type of capability.

As Cabba’s influence has been growing in the west, there’s no doubt he will begin to have a presence in the east. The question to be asked is not “if” but “when” in regards to seeing Armando and his magnificent paintings hanging in galleries and collections in Dubai.

For more on Armando Cabba, his work and information can be found on his website http://www.armando-cabba.com/

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STAGE SET FOR EPIC CROSS COUNTRY RALLY ACTION IN ABU DHABI DESERT CHALLENGE POWERED BY NISSAN

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Ceremonial start on Yas Marina Circuit’s Grand Prix track to launch 29th edition of spectacular event

The eyes of the cross country rallying world will be on the UAE capital when the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Powered by Nissan starts on Saturday under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in Al Dafrah Region.

Organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE), the national motor sport authority, the event forms the second round of the 2019 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and buggies and the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes and quads.

A powerful line-up of 119 competitors from 34 countries have assembled at Yas Marina Circuit, the rally HQ, for the 29th edition of the Desert Challenge which gets under way with a ceremonial 7.30pm start on Saturday on the Grand Prix Circuit, one of the world’s top F1 venues.

At an official press conference today at Yas Marina Circuit, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the ATCUAE and FIA Vice President for Sport, said: “Once more we are indebted to His Highness Sheikh Hamdan, and to the Abu Dhabi government, for their consistent support over the years to put the Desert Challenge on the world stage and continue its development.”

“For everyone at the ATCUAE, as well as our sponsors and the volunteers who give up their time each year, this is a proud moment when we welcome competitors, support crews, officials and media from around the world. Many return year after year, and together we look forward to adding another chapter to the Desert Challenge success story.”

Al Tareq Al Ameri, CEO of Yas Marina Circuit, commented: “Once again we are honoured to be playing a growing role in helping the ATCUAE ensure the rally continues to showcase Abu Dhabi as a world-class sporting destination.

“The Desert Challenge is widely recognised as one of the world’s best international cross country rallies, and Yas Marina Circuit is proud to support the event.”

Kalyana Sivagnanam, Regional Vice President of Marketing and Sales for Africa, the Middle East and India said: “ADDC is one of the world’s most prestigious international cross-country rallies and at Nissan, we are excited to be an essential element of this iconic Desert Challenge for the 16th consecutive year.

“Motorsports is in our DNA and since Nissan’s inception in the region we have been pushing the boundaries of innovation within the motorsports industry. Today we revealed a new concept of the Y61 Nissan Patrol, the Nissan Patrol Falcon Carbon Edition. The Patrol Carbon Edition showcases the versatility of modification and enhances the Y61 Nissan Patrol with striking new features.

“The Nissan Special Stage on Tuesday will be one of the most spectacular competitive sections in the event, providing a stern test for competitors over 297.97 kms of dramatic desert terrain.”

The Desert Challenge is supported Abu Dhabi Aviation, Abu Dhabi Police, ADNOC, Al Ain Water, Al Dhafra Region Ruler’s Representative Court, National Ambulance, Nissan, United Arab Emirates Armed Forces and Yas Marina Circuit.

Czech driver Martin Prokop, back at the wheel of a Ford Raptor RS, faces a huge test as he looks to defend his cars title alongside Viktor Chitka.

Among his biggest rivals in the 39-vehicle FIA World Cup line-up are French star Stéphane Peterhansel who scored the last of his five cars victories in 2011 and returns in an X-raid Mini John Cooper Works buggy with wife Andrea as co-driver.

Heading the seedings list are the top two from this year’s World Cup standings following the first round in Qatar, Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Alrajhi in a Toyota Hillux Overdrive and Russia’s two-times Desert Challenge winner Vladimir Vasilyev in a BMW X3.

Biding for his second Desert Challenge triumph is the UAE’s Khalid Al Qassimi in the Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR, while Frenchman Cyril Despres, a five-times Desert Challenge bikes winner, drives another X-raid Mini John Cooper Works buggy. The host country’s five-car challenge also sees Yahya Al Helei starting his 29th consecutive Desert Challenge in a Nissan Pick Up.

Yasir Seaidan in a Nissan Navara is one of five Saudi drivers entered. Another Saudi, Khaled Al Feraihi at the wheel of a Nissan Patrol Pick Up, will be aiming to succeed fellow-countryman Ahmed Al Shegawi as winner of the T2 production cars category. Spain’s Jose-Luis Pena Campo returns to Abu Dhabi seeking a second successive buggies triumph in a Polaris.

If he is to secure his second bikes win in three years, KTM star Sam Sunderland will have to overcome the threat from Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, the top seed on this occasion, as well as his Honda team-mates Joan Barreda Bort of Spain and Chile’s Jose Cornejo. KTM’s Argentinian rider Luciano Benavides and American Husqvarna rider Andrew Short could also be in the hunt for victory.

With 41 riders contesting the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, Poland’s Rafal Sonik aims for a third quads category, with last year’s winner, Dutchman Kees Koolen, entering the bikes on this occasion.

After heading out from Abu Dhabi on Sunday morning for the first of five demanding desert stages, the rally will be based for four nights at a bivouac close to the Qasr Al-Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara. The event finishes at 5pm on Thursday 4 April back at Yas Marina Circuit.

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge powered by Nissan, rally itinerary:

30 March:        Ceremonial start at Yas Marina Circuit – 7.30pm

31 March:        Yas Marina Circuit Stage 1 (261.97km) – starting 9am

1 April:            Al Ain Water Stage 2 (222.80km) – starting 6.00am

2 April:            Nissan Stage 3 (297.97km) – starting 6.15am

3 April:            ADNOC Stage 4 (286.10km) – starting 6.00am

4 April:            Abu Dhabi Aviation Stage 5 (214.47km) – starting 6.25am

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TORRENTE FASTEST BEFORE WEATHER WINS IN SAUDI

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Team Abu Dhabi look to Portugal after UIM F1H2O World Championship opener is cancelled

Team Abu Dhabi’s Shaun Torrente gave a brief glimpse of the form which carried him to the world title today before rough weather forced the cancellation of the Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia, the opening round of this year’s UIM F1H2O World Championship.

After strong winds of over 30km/h and choppy seas had prevented any on-water activity on the 2.23km Dammam circuit over the two previous days, this morning’s qualifying session was cut short after 30 minutes with sea conditions deteriorating.

At that point defending champion Torrente was quickest over four laps with a time of 1:114.36s, 0.51s quicker than Blaze Performance’s Francesco Cantando, with CTIC F1 Shenzhen China’s Peter Morin another 3.92s adrift in third place.

Team Abu’s Thani Al Qemzi, third in last season’s F1H2O World Championship, had recorded a best time of 1:26.57 in his three laps before the red flag was raised.

In an effort to later get the first Grand Prix of 2019 under way the start was pushed back by half an hour, but after the boats returned to the water for several laps to assess conditions the race was officially called off. The UIM F1H2O championship now moves on to the Algarve resort of Portimao for the Grand Prix of Portugal on 17-19 May.

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SHEIKH SULTAN FLAGS OFF COMPETITORS AT THE CEREMONIAL START OF THE ABU DHABI DESERT CHALLENGE

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His Excellency Sheikh Sultan Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan, Advisor to the UAE President flagged off the competitors at the ceremonial start of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge powered by Nissan at Yas Marina Circuit tonight.

The event forms the second round of the 2019 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and buggies and the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes and quads.

Sheikh Sultan was joined by Al Tareq Al Ameri, CEO of Yas Marina Circuit and Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organisers.

Taking place under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in Al Dafrah Region, the rally has a starting line-up of 34 cars and buggies and 33 bikes and quads.

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TEAM ABU DHABI KEPT WAITING AS WINDS BLOW SEASON OPENER OFF COURSE

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Torrente, Al Qemzi forced to sit out second day as weather hits Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia

Team Abu Dhabi have been kept waiting for a second day before launching the defence of their team and driver titles in the Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia, opening round of this year’s UIM F1H2O World Championship.

Strong winds of over 30km/h and rough seas again disrupted any on-water activity in Dammam today, forcing the postponement of a practice session and official qualifying.

With weather conditions expected to calm overnight race organisers were planning to rescheduled official qualifying for tomorrow, with Team Abu Dhabi’s reigning world champion Shaun Torrente and Emirati Thani Al Qemzi eager to return to action.

But F4-S Trophy racing for the weekend has been cancelled, meaning no action this time for Team Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed Al-Mehairbi and Rashed Al-Remeithi.

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FEARLESS ANASTASIYA RISES TO ANOTHER DESERT CHALLENGE

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Mother of two back in Abu Dhabi with support this time after creating rallying history with amazing solo Dakar ride

While men dominate cross country rallying, Anastasiya Nifontova has proved herself to be as fearless any of the sport’s top riders and drivers assembled at Yas Marina Circuit today to prepare for World Championship duty.

The Russian mother of two is the sole woman competitor in the bikes and quads category at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Powered by Nissan, just weeks after creating history in the gruelling Dakar Rally in Peru.

Nifontova became the first woman ever to finish the event completely unassisted. Not only did she safely negotiate a route totalling 3,100 miles in length, with nearly 1,900 miles of timed stages, she had no mechanical help or support of any kind.

The achievements of the 2015 womens’ FIM Cross-Country Rally world champion have made her a role model for women in motor sport, and she is one of five female competitors overall contesting the Desert Challenge.

The others are Andrea Peterhansel, wife and co-driver of five-times cars winner Stéphane Peterhansel, Italian Camelia Liparoti and her Spanish co-driver Rosa Romero in a Yamaha buggy and Egyptian Yara Shalaby driving a Nissan Pathfinder.

After a mechanical nightmare in the 2014 Desert Challenge, Anastasiya was placed 30th out of 45 finishers 12 months later, and she hopes for much better this time with the support of husband Anton Gavrilov, one mechanic and a 4WD assistance car.

She still faces another big test, however, in an event which has attracted 41 riders for the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship. On Sunday morning the rally leaves Abu Dhabi for five difficult desert stages of 261km, 222km, 297km, 286km, and finally 214.47km in a route totalling 2,006.73km in length.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club for the UAE, the rally organisers, and FIA Vice President for Sport, said: “Anastasiya has shown what a brave and fearless competitor she is and we’re very pleased to welcome her back to Abu Dhabi. The sport needs to attract more women competitors, and hopefully her achievements can help.”

Taking place under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in Al Dafrah Region, the Desert Challenge is supported Abu Dhabi Aviation, Abu Dhabi Police, ADNOC, Al Ain Water, Al Dhafra Region Ruler’s Representative Court, National Ambulance, Nissan, United Arab Emirates Armed Forces and Yas Marina Circuit.

It’s a major test even for the best of the male riders from the professional factory teams, including Sam Sunderland, winner of both the Desert Challenge and Dakar Rally bikes crowns in 2017.

“The Desert Challenge is very demanding,” says Anastasiya, as the first batch of bikes, quads, cars and buggies went through scrutineering in the South Grand Stand support pits today to guarantee their place in tomorrow’s 7.30pm ceremonial start.

“Riding in the big dunes needs maximum concentration,” she said. “High temperatures also add problems. Riders have to be very careful with hydration of their body and drink regularly. This race is dangerous and nice at the same time.”

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge powered by Nissan, rally itinerary:

30 March:        Ceremonial start at Yas Marina Circuit – 7.30pm

31 March:        Yas Marina Circuit Stage 1 (261.97km) – starting 9am

1 April:            Al Ain Water Stage 2 (222.80km) – starting 6.00am

2 April:            Nissan Stage 3 (297.97km) – starting 6.15am

3 April:            ADNOC Stage 4 (286.10km) – starting 6.00am

4 April:            Abu Dhabi Aviation Stage 5 (214.47km) – starting 6.25am

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ARAB STARS BATTLE ODDS IN DESERT CHALLENGE

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Al Qassimi, Al Rajhi face daunting victory bids as rally heads for tough five-day test

The UAE’s Khalid Al Qassimi and Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi will be battling the odds, and event history, when they each set off in pursuit of victory tomorrow morning in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge powered by Nissan.

After today’s (Saturday) ceremonial start at Yas Marina Circuit, the rally begins in earnest with the 261.97km first of five desert stages running through the dunes and sabka plains of the Al Dafrah Region in a route totalling 2,006.73km in length.

Al Qassimi, partnered by Frenchman Xavier Panseri in an Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR, knows what it is like to win the event, having done so in 2017 as his focus switched from WRC to cross country rallying.

It had been 25 years since another Emirati, Mohammed Mattar, secured victory in the Desert Challenge which has seen Arab drivers find success only six times in its 28 previous editions.

While Ahmed Al Shegawi won the T2 production cars category last year, Al Rajhi is attempting to become the first outright Saudi winner, helped by German co-driver Dirk Von Zitzewitz in a Toyota Hilux Overdrive.

In sharp contrast, Stéphane Peterhansel and Cyril Despres have winning odds much more in their favour in an event which has brought 15 cars triumphs over the years for French drivers.

Accompanied by wife Andrea in a Mini John Cooper Works buggy, Peterhansel is responsible for five of those victories, plus one in the bikes category where Despres notched the other five by French riders before also switching from two wheels to four.

If an individual country’s success matters, Honda works team rider Joan Barreda Port could have a strong chance of denying KTM rival Sam Sunderland a second Desert Challenge bikes crown in three years.

Spain has scored ten previous bikes victories in the event, eight of them by Marc Coma who won five times in a row from 2009, a sequence which might inspire his former KTM team-mate Sunderland as much as Barreda Port.

Looking to impress again in the company of the sport’s top riders is the UAE’s reigning FIM world champion Mohammed Al Balooshi who returns to action in the Desert Challenge looking for a top finish after engine failure prevented him from starting the recent Dubai International Baja.

 “We’ve had so many great champions over the years, and I’m proud when I look at the long list of famous drivers and riders who have come here to win,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organisers, and FIA Vice President for Sport.

“Whether you’re a world-class competitor or an amateur enthusiast competing against the best in the sport, you can’t fail to be impressed by our record. It’s always interesting, as well as difficult, to guess who this year’s winners will be.”

Taking place under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in Al Dafrah Region, the Desert Challenge is supported Abu Dhabi Aviation, Abu Dhabi Police, ADNOC, Al Ain Water, Al Dhafra Region Ruler’s Representative Court, National Ambulance, Nissan, United Arab Emirates Armed Forces and Yas Marina Circuit. The Nissan Patrol is the official car for the event.

The event forms the second round of the 2019 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and buggies and Abu Dhabi will be followed by rounds in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Morocco.

The Desert Challenge also forms the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes and quads which will continue into China, Chile and Morocco.

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge powered by Nissan, rally itinerary:

31 March:        Yas Marina Circuit Stage 1 (261.97km) – starting 9am

1 April:            Al Ain Water Stage 2 (222.80km) – starting 6.00am

2 April:            Nissan Stage 3 (297.97km) – starting 6.15am

3 April:            ADNOC Stage 4 (286.10km) – starting 6.00am

4 April:            Abu Dhabi Aviation Stage 5 (214.47km) – starting 6.25am

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SULAYEM HAILS ‘UNSUNG HEROES’ OF DESERT CHALLENGE

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Search and rescue operation makes event the safest in world of cross country rallying

Mohammed Ben Sulayem today paid tribute to the ‘unsung heroes’ who make the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Powered by Nissan the safest event in the world of international cross country rallying.

Negotiating some of the most forbidding desert terrain on earth in the Al Dafrah Region, with timed stages stretching on for more than 250km across mighty dunes and salt flats, the world’s top drivers and riders face a major examination.

Taking place under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in Al Dafrah Region, the Desert Challenge is also supported Abu Dhabi Aviation, Abu Dhabi Police, ADNOC, Al Dhafra Region Ruler’s Representative Court, National Ambulance, Nissan, United Arab Emirates Armed Forces and Yas Marina Circuit. The Nissan Patrol is the official car for the event.

With the threat of accidents, fatigue and dehydration ever present, ten per cent of competitors starting the event each year need some form of medical assistance, and help is never more than 12 minutes away.

“It takes a meticulously planned logistical operation to respond so quickly whenever someone finds trouble,” said Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, organisers of the rally which has its ceremonial start at Yas Marina Circuit on Saturday.

“The people working behind the scenes to guarantee this level of safety are the unsung heroes of the rally. No other event in the FIA World Cup or FIM World Championship can match our average response time of 10-12 minutes.”

The Search and Rescue operation for the Desert Challenge depends on the combined efforts of Abu Dhabi Aviation, National Ambulance and a highly skilled medical team, all co-ordinated by the ATCUAE’s experienced Rally Control unit.

Abu Dhabi Aviation helicopters and rally medical crews are on permanent standby to be dispatched to any incident, as are a fleet of National Ambulance vehicles and staff which operate close to the route in the event of any emergency.

Working under the direction of Clerk of the Course Ronan Morgan and Chief Medical Officer Dr Sean Petherbridge, the teams are able to deliver initial paramedic treatment before transferring rally crews to the event’s bivouac medical centre or hospital.

“The safety and wellbeing of competitors and all those attending the Desert Challenge is always our top priority. We are proud of the role we play each year in such an international event, providing the highest standards required of a modern ambulance service,” said Ahmed Al Hajeri, CEO, National Ambulance.

When the second round of the 2019 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and buggies heads away from Abu Dhabi into the deserts of the Al Dafrah Region on Sunday morning, no driver will be better prepared for the test ahead than the UAE’s Yahya Al Helei.

Partnered by Emirati co-driver Khalid Al Kendi, Al Helei will be maintaining his incredible 100 per

cent appearance record in the event at the wheel of the Nissan Pick up which has seen him out pace and outmanoeuvre some of the world’s top drivers and rally machinery in recent years.

After engine failure prevented him from starting the recent Dubai International Baja, the UAE’s reigning world champion Mohammed Al Balooshi returns to action in the event which launches this year’s FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship for bikes and quads.

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TEAM ABU DHABI PRIMED FOR NEW DOUBLE TITLE BID AS F1H2O SERIES RETURNS TO SAUDI

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Torrente, Al Qemzi prepared for big challenge in season opener

Team Abu Dhabi are prepared for a major challenge when they launch their bid for a second successive double title triumph in the opening round of the 2019 UIM F1H2O World Championship in Saudi Arabia this weekend.

Reigning world champion Shaun Torrente and Emirati Thani Al Qemzi who finished third in last year’s individual standings head a powerful nine-team line up in Dammam for the return of the series to Saudi after a 15-year gap.

Among their biggest rivals will be France’s three time-world champion Philippe Chiappe and son-in-law Peter Morin who finished runners-up to the Abu Dhabi duo in last year’s Teams Championship for CTIC F1 Shenzhen China.

Chiappe, who had to settle for fifth place during a frustrating 2018 campaign, is determined to launch a powerful assault on the title while Morin showed with his fourth position and two podiums last season that he is also a major force to be reckoned with.

They and the rest of the opposition will find the Team Abu Dhabi duo in no mood to give way, however, as they look to build on an impressive combined record which includes seven UIM F1H2O race wins for Torrente, eight for Al Qemzi and 40 podium places together.

“I’m very excited to be starting the season as world champion for the first time, and of course my target is to capture the title again and make sure Team Abu finish the year as champions,” said Torrente, who will carry the prestigious No.1 plate. “It’s going to be tough to do that, but the team has prepared meticulously for the new season and we’re looking forward to getting things under way.”

Al Qemzi, who’s own world title hopes last season were ended by engine failure during the last round in Sharjah, said: “We’re committed to keeping the team title in Abu Dhabi, and that’s the priority, although we both obviously have our individual ambitions.

“It’s good to see Saudi back as a race venue in the championship and I’m looking forward to starting the season, hopefully with the right result for myself and the team.”

Also returning to action with Team Abu in Saudi in the hunt for the F4-S Trophy are Mohammed Al-Mehairbi who is looking to build on his fourth place overall finish last season and Rashed Al-Remeithi.

Sponsored by Etihad Airways, Team Abu Dhabi is supported by the Abu Dhabi Sports Council and runs under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Khalifa Al-Nahyan, advisor to the Head of State and chairman of the board of directors of the Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club and under the guidance of H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Sultan Bin Khalifa Al-Nahyan, Vice-President and CEO of ADIMSC.

The racing team runs under the umbrella of the ADIMSC, board member and general manager Salem Al-Remeithi and team manager Guido Cappellini.

Among the changes to this year’s UIM F1H2O team line-ups, American newcomer Greg Foster has joined Blaze Performance to partner Italy’s Francesco Cantando as the championship’s most experienced driver starts his 24th season. Another Italian, Alberto Comparato makes his F1H2O debut in Dammam with Portuguese outfit F1 Atlantic alongside Duarte Benavente.

Action on the 2.23km Dammam Circuit begins with an extra free practice session at 13:15hrs (local time). A second practice session on Friday morning is followed by Official Qualifying at 16:00hrs, with the final practice session on Saturday morning and the UIM F1H2O Grand Prix Saudi Arabia roaring to life at 16:00hrs.

2019 UIM F1H2O World Championship teams:

Team Abu Dhabi: 1. Shaun Torrente (USA) / 2. Thani Al Qemzi (UAE)

Victory Team: 3. Ahmed Al Hameli (UAE) / 44. Alex Carella (ITA)

CTIC F1 Shenzhen China: 7. Philippe Chiappe (FRA) / 8. Peter Morin (FRA)

F1 Atlantic: 9. Alberto Comparato (ITA) / 10. Duarte Benavente (POR)

Sharjah Team: 11. Sami Selio (FIN) / 12. Filip Roms (FIN)

Team Amaravati: 14. Jonas Andersson (SWE) / 15. Erik Edin (SWE)

Blaze Performance: 36. Greg Foster (USA) / 37. Francesco Cantando (ITA)

Emirates Racing: 50. Marit Stromoy (NOR) / 77. Bartek Marszalek (POL)

Maverick F1: 73. Cedric Deguisne (FRA) / 74. Beranger Robart (FRA)

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