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Al Mutawei prepares for UAE Desert Challenge showdown

MOTORSPORT

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

For immediate release
Sunday, September 19th, 2004

DUBAI'S KHALIFA AL-MUTAWEI
AIMS FOR TOP FINISH IN HOME EVENT

Victory Team star aims to clinch maiden FIA World Cup title;
Strongest ever Desert Challenge entry assembled in Dubai

DUBAI (UAE): Dubai's Khalifa Al-Mutawei will be bidding to extend his lead in the 2004 FIA Cross-Country Rallies World Cup Drivers' Championship, when he and French co-driver Alain Guehennec tackle the six-day UAE Desert Challenge between October 10th-15th across the remote sands of the United Arab Emirates.

The Victory Team star is bidding to become the first Arab driver in history to clinch a coveted FIA World title and heads for the sands of his native Emirate with an 11-point lead in the series over Frenchman Stˇphane Peterhansel, the winner of this year's Dakar Rally and two successive UAE Desert Challenges. Al-Mutawei again drives a powerful diesel-engined BMW X5, prepared at the X5 Rallye-Raid workshops in Trebur, Germany.

~It is not going to be easy to beat Stˇphane or any of the factory cars in the Desert Challenge,~ admitted Al-Mutawei. ~But I have never been better prepared for the event and must also ensure that I reach the finish and score some championship points. This event has been the final round of the series for many years, but there has been a crucial date change this year and I will probably have to make the long journey to Argentina in November if I am to lift the title for the first time.

~Last year I was competitive in this event before I had an accident and was forced to retire. But I have learned a lot in the last 12 months and have finished second overall on three occasions this season in Tunisia, Portugal and Spain, fourth in Turkey and sixth in Morocco. I know that it is going to be tough on the Desert Challenge, because Mitsubishi, Nissan and Volkswagen will be testing for the Dakar and each of their drivers is capable of winning the event outright.~

Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret will be bidding for their third successive victory in the UAE Desert Challenge, when they line up with Japanese team mate Hiroshi Masuoka and his French co-driver Gilles Picard in a pair of Mitsubishi Pajero Evolutions.

Peterhansel has already won in Tunisia and Morocco this year. Masuoka's solitary competitive event for Mitsubishi this season was in the Rally of Tunisia, where he was delayed with clutch problems. Since then the twice former winner of the Dakar Rally has been busy on a test and development program with the revised Pajero Evolution. He heads for the Middle East determined to continue his Dakar Rally preparations with a competitive performance.

The gruelling Gulf event joined the FIA World Cup in 1993 and has been extended from five to six sections this year. It has attracted one of the strongest entries ever seen outside of the Dakar Rally arena. Only the UAE's Mohammed Mattar (1991 and 1992) and Qatar's Saeed Al-Hajri (1993) have ever won this event from the Arab world.

Former World Rally Champions Colin McRae (Nissan) and Juha Kankkunen (Volkswagen) are just two of the top drivers who will line-up alongside Al-Mutawei, Peterhansel, Masuoka, VW's Jutta Kleinschmidt and Nissan's Grˇgoire de Mevius on the opening timed Prologue stage at the Jebel Ali Racecourse, near Dubai, at 4pm on Sunday, October 10th.

~It will be a tremendous spectacle and a great battle for us all,~ added Al-Mutawei. ~My car is well suited to the conditions and ran well on the hot and sandy events earlier this year in Tunisia and Morocco. We have worked on improving the cooling and reliability and I am now counting down the days to the start.~

From that official start at the Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi the following morning, the event heads south for the first of four competitive selective sections, each of around 340 kms, culminating in night halts at the remote bivouac in 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, 30 kms south of Dubai.

Ends

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Date issued: 19/09/2004

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