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Three Liberty Rally Team cars head for UAE Desert Challenge

MOTORSPORT

2004 FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup
UAE Desert Challenge, round 6 of 7

For immediate release
Sunday, September 26th, 2004

THREE-CAR UAE LIBERTY RALLY TEAM TO
TACKLE GRUELLING UAE DESERT CHALLENGE

Dubai's Al-Helai aims for podium finish;
Chevrolet trio confident of success on home event

DUBAI (UAE): Three Liberty Rally Team Chevrolet-Pick-Ups will tackle the gruelling UAE Desert Challenge, the penultimate round of the FIA Cross-Country Rallies World Cup, on October 10th-15th.

The Dubai-based team will be spearheaded by the experienced local desert expert Yayha Al-Helai, who has one of the most impressive records of any driver on the Middle East's premier all-terrain endurance rally. Al-Helai, also known on previous Desert Challenges as Yayha Bilhili, is a four-wheel drive enthusiast and has built an array of exotic 4x4 vehicles in recent years, including a six-wheel Range Rover and a performance Hummer.

~I love the desert and I love driving across the dunes here in the UAE,~ said Al-Helai. ~Every year I look forward to the Desert Challenge and I have been lucky to take some good results in recent years. This year we again have a strong three-car team and will be hoping to get into a podium position. The entry is strong this time, perhaps better than ever, but this makes us all the more determined to reach the finish and achieve a top result.~

Team mate Obaid Bin Hathboor took an excellent seventh place in last year's event at the wheel of a Chevrolet Tahoe, alongside co-driver Abdulhalim Bin Zayed. Obaid returns this season to drive the second Liberty Rally Team Chevrolet Pick-Up, with the UAE's Ahmad Bin Soughat driving the third Liberty car.

Soughat is one of the most experienced of all the long-distance Arab rally drivers and notched up his first top 10 finish back in 1994, when the event was won by Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser for the first time in a single-seater Buggy. Soughat and co-driver Wael Marjan drove a Nissan on that occasion. The following year Ahmad finished 10th overall in a similar car and, like team mate Al-Helai, ran inside the top 10 last year with co-driver Jassim Al-Kendi.

Al-Helai finished seventh in last year's UAE Desert Challenge at the wheel of a Chevrolet Tahoe, behind world class opposition, but took his first podium finish in this event back in 1992, when he finished a superb third overall at the wheel of a Nissan Patrol. When the event joined the FIA World Cup for the first time the following season, Al-Helai was again a keen competitor and he went on to finish ninth overall in a Nissan in 1994.

Throughout the 1990s his performances on the UAE Desert Challenge earned him a formidable reputation as being one of the hardest local drivers to beat. His ability to read the dunes and differentiate between compact and 'live' sand gave him a fine fifth position in the 1997 UAE Desert Challenge, behind the might of the Citroen works team. The following season Al-Helai repeated his fifth position in a Nissan and took sixth place in 1999 to emphasise his consistent performances on his home event.

But Yayha's finest result to date came at the wheel of a Chevrolet Tahoe in 2001, when he finished runner-up behind the FIA World Champion Jean-Louis Schlesser on one of the most difficult Desert Challenges for many years. Last year he finished in 10th position with co-driver Khaled Al-Kendi after several delays.

The Liberty Rally Team trio lines-up against the strongest entry ever assembled on the sands of the UAE, with former World Rally Champions Colin McRae and Juha Kankkunen set to go head-to-head with former Dakar rally winners Stephane Peterhansel, Bruno Saby, Hiroshi Masuoka and Jutta Kleinschmidt, in what promises to be a thrilling showdown between the Nissan, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen factory rally-raid teams.

The event kicks off with a Prologue stage at the Jebel Ali racecourse, near Dubai, at 4pm on Sunday, October 10th, before the official start at the Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi on October 11th. The event then heads south for the first of four competitive selective sections, each of around 340 kms, culminating in night halts at the remote and scenic bivouac at Mureeb, south of Liwa, in the Abu Dhabi emirate.

The next three days will see the action unfold in the remote Rub Al Khali or Empty Quarter, before the final leg on Friday, October 15th takes the survivors north to the finish at the Dubai International Marine Club, near Dubai.

Ends

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Date issued: 26/09/2004

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