Finnish legend Vatanen heads for UAE Desert Challenge

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

For immediate release
Monday, October 6th, 2003


Vatanen to race for Nissan in the UAE

DUBAI (UAE): Ari Vatanen, the most successful driver in the history of the Paris-Dakar Rally and the 1981 World Rally Champion, will take part in the UAE Desert Challenge, the final round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies. The event starts with a Prologue in Dubai on Monday, October 20th.

Vatanen, 51, is a four-times winner of the Dakar and returned to top flight rallying back in January when he tackled the Dakar Rally again with the Nissan Rallye-Raid Team. The Finn won the gruelling African classic in 1987, 1989, 1990 and 1991 with the Peugeot and Citroën factory teams under the management of Jean Todt and Guy Fréquelin after a successful career in the World Rally Championship with the Opel, Ford and Peugeot teams.

After surviving a near-fatal crash in the 1985 Rally of Argentina, Vatanen switched to cross-country rallying at the end of 1986 when FISA abolished Group B rally cars on safety grounds. He developed a strong affiliation for African culture and became a true supporter of events such as the Dakar Rally.

The Finn announced his retirement from international sport several years ago to pursue a career in European politics, but the draw of the Dakar was too great and he returned amidst a fanfare of publicity this year to take an excellent seventh overall with Swedish co-driver Tina Thörner in a factory Nissan Pick-Up.

The Finn, who won the World Rally Championship for Drivers' in a David Sutton-prepared Ford Escort RS back in 1981, has entered the five-day event across the sands of the UAE to prepare for another assault at the Dakar Rally in January 2004. He won the UAE Desert Challenge in 1987.

He currently holds the record for the greatest number of stage wins on the marathon African event, with 46 compared to his nearest rival Belgian Jacky Ickx with 29.

~Ari is a household name in world rallying and a great character,~ said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the chairman of the organising committee. ~He is one of the most popular figures in the sport and we are delighted to welcome him and the Nissan team to the UAE.~

Vatanen joins forces in the UAE Desert Challenge with the promising South African driver Giniel de Villiers, the winner of this year's Rally of Morocco. Giniel was one of the surprise packages in this year's Dakar Rally in his South African-built Pick-Up and was the highest-placed of the non-Mitsubishi runners in fifth overall.

The workload for the Nissan Rallye Raid Team is shared between the UK and South Africa, with former Le Mans racer and Touring Car driver Alec Poole sharing management responsibilities with the experienced Ulster co-driver Fred Gallagher.

The Nissan team has recently carried out a test session in Morocco with Vatanen and the revised Pick-Up, prior to the UAE Desert Challenge, where the Mitsubishi Motors Team, the BMW X5 Rallye Raid team and Schlesser-Ford should feature as their main rivals.

This year's UAE Desert Challenge will be 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.


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: 06/10/2003

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Tel/Fax: +44 (0) 1952 825001
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