Sebastien Loeb is relishing another titanic battle with Nasser Al Attiyah in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge starting on Sunday, as Bahrain Raid Xtreme look to protect their three-way lead in the World Rally-Raid Championship.
Loeb and Fabian Lurquin in their BRX Prodrive Hunter top the Drivers, Co-Drivers and Manufacturers tables heading into the second round of the championship in the UAE, with Al Attiyah posing the main threat to their triple title ambitions this year.
After winning half of the Dakar Rally’s 14 stages in Saudi Arabia, and a record six in a row, they are ready for another big test in the 32nd edition of the Desert Challenge, which offers 2,170 kms of hot, demanding and relentless stages.
“I’m very happy to return to Rally Raid after Dakar where we saw that we had some very good speed, especially in the dunes, so we are leading the championship,” said nine-time World Rally Champion Loeb.
“Of course, it would be great to come out of Abu Dhabi still at the top of the points, but I remember last year that it was not easy as Nasser was very quick. I hope that what we saw on the Dakar means that we will be able to fight with him again.”
Lying third in the championship in a second Prodrive Hunter, 2009 Desert Challenge winner Guerlain Chicherit and co-driver Alex Winocq aim to reproduce their best form from the Dakar where they were fastest on two stages.
“The six weeks between the Dakar Rally and the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge were not too much for me,” confessed Chicherit. “My body was very tired after the 15 days of rallying, so I’ve recovered and trained well with a specialist to start this second event of the season in the best condition.
“We know that our Hunter performs well, especially in the dunes that make the ADDC so special. It is an event that I like very much as I won it a long time ago in 2009.”
With a new-look route sweeping across the Al Dhafra region, it will be familiar territory for the two Prodrive Hunter crews as they again tackle the giant dunes of the Empty Quarter.
While the Prodrive Hunter was unbeaten during the second week of the Dakar Rally across the same daunting terrain, no stone has been left unturned in the preparation of the cars to keep BRX ahead in the title race.
Again, the 3.5 litre twin turbo engine Hunters will be powered by Coryton’s sustainable fuel, which produces 80% less CO2 emissions.
With the rally heading out of Abu Dhabi for Sunday’s prologue in Al Dhannah, the Desert Challenge is sure to be another classic in the ever-growing world of Rally Raid. The winners list since 1991 reading like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the sport, making success here all the more significant.
From Monday, the cars tackle five demanding stages based around the Qasr Al Sarab bivouac in the heart of the dunes, before the finish on Friday 3rd March back in Abu Dhabi.