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Victory in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is a remarkable achievement. It is a crown coveted  by every driver and rider in the cross-country rallying community, and most of the world’s best off-road racers have now arrived in the UAE capital determined to win this prestigious event

The Prologue of the 33rd edition of this legendary race, in Al Dhannah City on February 26th, kicks off a week of thrills and extraordinary skills, showcasing the daring and improvisation that defines desert racing talent and the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, now in its third year as the second round of the World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC).

Prodrive’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, and his principle regional rival Yazeed Al-Rajhi in a Toyota Hilux for Overdrive, will be at their most determined, drawing on their considerable desert racing experience to compensate for disappointing retirements in Round One in January.

More than 150 competitors will take to the unpredictable and challenging sands of the Al Dhafra region, including this year’s two-wheel sensation Tobias Ebster on a KTM in the Moto R2 class. Ebster is the nephew of KTM legend Heinz Kinigadner, and the brilliant youngster is known as Mini Kini. He competed in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge last year and won the Road to Dakar title, before finishing 20th overall in the first round of the W2RC 2024.

Further competition in the Ultimate category (ex-T1) from Overdrive comes from 2008 Desert Challenge winner Guerlain Chicherit, plus emerging Belgian star Guillaume de Mevius. 2018 Desert Challenge winner Martin Prokop in the Ford Raptor finished in second place overall in 2022 and 2023, and will be looking to go one better in 2024. The Brazilian Baumgart brothers, driving an X Rally Team supported Prodrive Hunter, are also expected to feature amongst the leading contenders this year, while 19 year-old Aliyyah Koloc from team Buggyra will be attempting to build on her very promising Dakar debut.

Following a stunning drive at last year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge to win the Challenger category and finish third in the overall classification, Seth Quintero has now moved up to a drive in the Ultimate category for Toyota Gazoo Racing (TGR) – the official Toyota team – where he is joined by Brazilian Lucas Moraes and two South Africans, Saood Variawa and Guy Botterill, meaning Toyota Gazoo Racing is fielding the full lineup of its official team.

Al-Futtaim Toyota is also playing a crucial role in this year’s demanding event as the Official Automotive Partner. The Rally’s organisers, the Emirates Motorsports Organisation (EMSO), and Al-Futtaim Toyota continue to build on a successful relationship in which they provided a fleet of vehicles for use by officials, marshalls, volunteers, and media during last year’s edition of the Desert Challenge.

Most importantly, Al-Futtaim Toyota’s cars guarantee reliability in one of the toughest environments in the world where the event gets underway this weekend. A product of the UAE, Al-Futtaim Toyota brings a wealth of experience and heritage of its own to the historically-rich Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

Jacques Brent, Managing Director – Toyota and Lexus at Al-Futtaim Automotive, commented: “Off-roading is part of our DNA, truly an integral part of Toyota’s culture and an inseparable part of our history in the UAE. Needless to say, Al-Futtaim Toyota and Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge are the perfect fit, and we take great pride in supporting this popular and hugely demanding competition. Moreover, fielding so many Toyota entries builds on our motorsport credentials, as well as provides our fanbase and the UAE’s motoring community real thrills in one of the most dramatic landscapes. Al Futtaim Toyota continues to develop Motorsport in the region. Evidently through the Gazoo Racing UAE Motorsport Academy which is in its second season starting from April and we are seeing overwhelming interest from the country. This is after a successful season 1 which was focusing on rally racing. We are happy to provide our fleet of vehicles and expertise, and, as Official Automotive Partner, we are always ready to back EMSO in every way we can in its mission to continue developing motorsports in the UAE.”

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge brings the pinnacle of off-road racing in the UAE, and a stand-out event on the global stage, to the W2RC, as the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, along with EMSO, continues to promote international events within the region.

Khalid Bin Sulayem, EMSO President, said: “Al-Futtaim Toyota’s extensive experience of the rallying world, combined with the EMSO’s knowledge of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and off-road racing in the UAE, once again come together to make the perfect formula for an exciting event in just a few days time. Our strong relationship with Al-Futtaim Toyota continues to evolve and progress in conjunction with the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, and we are delighted to be able to continue this crucial logistical and strategic partnership.”

Al-Futtaim Toyota brings further credibility to the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and its mission to provide opportunities and develop motorsport talent in the UAE. This is exemplified by last year’s launch of the Al-Futtaim Toyota Motorsport Academy. The second season of the Academy will see a young driver named the 2024 Toyota UAE GR Ambassador for the following year, with the ambassador package including a Toyota GR vehicle, a trip to a global racing event where Toyota competes, and a chance to participate in the FIA Cross Country Challenge – all of which could make an immense difference for an upcoming driver.

Amongst this year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge competitors will be the lucky winners of the “Road to Dakar.” Organised by the Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) as part of the event, the “Road to Dakar” is open to the rookies in FIM Rally2 and FIA Stock drivers. The winning competitors from these categories will be awarded with free registration in the same category in the 2025 Dakar Rally.

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative Court in Al Dhafra Region; presented by the Abu Dhabi Sports Council; with the support of this year’s Energy partner ADNOC Distribution; Automotive partner Al-Futtaim Toyota; Abu Dhabi Aviation; Al Ain Water; Governmental support from the Ministry of Defence & UAE Armed Forces, Abu Dhabi Police,  Civil Defence, Abu Dhabi Distribution Co, Al Dhafra Region Municipality, and our media partner Abu Dhabi Sports TV.

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Hosam Rayya

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