Arab drivers aim for success in UAE Desert Challenge

UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge
2003 FIA and FIM World Cups, final round

For immediate release
Monday, September 22nd, 2003


Dubai's Alhili aims to keep impressive record going

DUBAI (UAE): A host of Arab drivers from several GCC countries will be hoping to become only the second ever local winner of the UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge, when action gets underway on this final round of the FIA and FIM World Cups with a Prologue stage on Monday, October 20th.

Dubai-based Mohammed Matter won the event on two occasions in 1991 and 1992. But the 4x4 rally was not a round of the FIA World Cup at this stage. He has tackled the event on several occasions in recent years on a motorcycle, but Qatar's Saeed Al-Hajri remains the only Arab driver ever to win the five-day event in a car.

Al-Hajri, a twice winner of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship in the days of Group B rally cars, is a former great rival of Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the chairman of the organising committee and 14-times regional champion.

Saeed, co-driven at the time by the experienced Frenchman Henri Magne, won the UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge back in 1993 as a member of the Mitsubishi factory team and has tackled several cross-country events in recent years - his most notable result being sixth overall in the 2002 Dakar Rally at the wheel of a Ralliart France-run Mitsubishi L200 Strakar.

While Al-Hajri now overseas the progress of his son Rashid on rounds of the Toyota Middle East Cup - which runs in conjunction with the FIA Middle East rally series - his place at the head of the local field has been taken by Dubai's Yayha Alhili in recent years.

A 4x4 enthusiast with a penchant for building and development formidable all-wheel drive prototype cars, Alhili's first result of note came in 1996, when he and co-driver Wael Marjan steered a Nissan T1 to fifth overall behind the factory Mitsubishis of Bruno Saby and Hiroshi Masuoka and the Buggies of Jean-Louis Schlesser and Jutta Kleinschmidt.

Alhili has built up an impressive record in the UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge. He finished fifth again the following year against a field which included the factory Citroens of Ari Vatanen and Pierre Lartigue and repeated the feat for a third time in 1998.

The Dubai driver had to settle for sixth position the following season in a Nissan, but his best ever result in the UAE Desert Challenge came in 2001, when he and Khaled Al-Kendi followed the World Champion Jean-Louis Schlesser over the finish ramp in second overall.

Alhili has persevered with his Chevrolet Tahoe ever since and will be hoping to upset the professional teams again this season, when the five-day, DIMC-based event gets underway next month.

~I really enjoy taking part in this event,~ admitted Alhili. ~I have the ability to read the sand and that can be quite difficult. In hot weather the sand can be soft and that makes it very difficult. It is crucial that you can tell where there is 'live sand' and experience is important. It is so easy to get stuck on an event like this if you do not know what you are doing.~

This year's UAE Desert Challenge is being held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Minister of Defence.

~Yayha is one of the most talented local drivers in cross-country rallying,~ said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the chairman of the organising committee. ~He has an excellent record on this event. But we are expecting several notable Arab names to take part this year and several of them are capable of competing against the factory teams.~


For further information about this year's event, contact the Marlboro UAE Desert Challenge office, PO Box 1714, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Tel: + 971 4 2669922 Fax: + 971 4 2666996 or E-mail: rallyuae@emirates.net.ae

For further media information:
Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge press officer, Tel: + (44) 1952 825078, Fax: + (44) 1952 825001, Tel: + 44 7831 123153
E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com

Date issued: 22/09/2003

For further information or assistance please contact:

NDP Publicity Services
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Tel/Fax: +44 (0) 1952 825001
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