UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge official preview

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

For immediate release
Sunday, October 19th, 2003


Sousa and Schlesser to decide FIA World title; FIM World Championship goes to the wire;
Tatarstan Prime Minister in international line-up; Al-Motaiwi and Alhilli top UAE entry

DUBAI (UAE): The UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge, the largest ever event in Middle East motorsport history, gets underway at 4pm on Monday afternoon with a short Prologue stage on Palm Island, Jumeira.

This short special - which will determine the starting order when off-road action gets underway from the ceremonial start at the Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday morning at 09.30 - is a mere taster for four gruelling days of competitive action through the remotest desert regions of the United Arab Emirates. Leading competitors, meanwhile, attended a pre-event press conference at the DIMC in Dubai on Monday.

The five-day event is the final round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies and the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Cup. Both championships will be decided across the sands of the UAE, with Portugal's Carlos Sousa lining up against Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser to determine the outcome of the FIA World Cross-Country Drivers' Championship.

Following a recent FIA International Court of Appeal hearing in Paris - where Schlesser was disqualified from the results of the Turkish round of the FIA World Cup - Sousa needs only five points to be guaranteed his maiden title. Schlesser is the defending World Champion and arrives in Dubai with his Ford-engined Buggy knowing that only the 45 points he stands to earn for outright victory will be enough and that will depend upon Sousa's result in his Mitsubishi L200 Strakar.

Standing in their way is one of the strongest car entries in the history of the UAE Desert Challenge, with a trio of Mitsubishi Pajero Evolutions in the hands of 2003 Dakar Rally winner Hiroshi Masuoka, Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel and twice FIA World Rally Champion Miki Biasion lining up against the Nissans of four-times Dakar winner Ari Vatanen and South Africa's Giniel de Villiers.

The two-car BMW X5 Raid team of French former World Downhill skiing champion Luc Alphand and former FIA Group N champion Gregoire de Mevius complete the international factory entries in the 46-car line-up.

Local competition will come from the UAE's Victory Rally Team entrant Khalifa Al-Motaiwi in a third BMW X5, former runner-up Yayha Alhilli in his Chevrolet Tahoe and Essa El-Hemrani in a Marlboro-supported Mitsubishi Pajero.

Several motorcycle riders can still win the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship and last year's Desert Challenge winner Cyril Despres leads the 63-bike entry away from the start on his factory KTM.

The Frenchman, who also won here in 2001, has a two-point lead over Poland's Marek Dabrowski in the championship, with Spain's Joan Roma and Australia's Andy Caldecott also in with a shout of taking the coveted title. The UAE's Mohammed Al-Ansari leads a strong line-up of quad bikes at the rear of the field.

The event also caters for trucks entered in the FIA T4 category and a trio of Russian Kamaz-Master vehicles line-up against the sole Fiat Iveco of Pierpaolo Bonetti. Driving one of the three Kamaz entries is Roustam Minnikhanov, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Tatarstan, and his experienced team mates Vladimir Tchaguine and Aydar Belyaev.

~We have been working on this event for many weeks,~ said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the chairman of the organising committee. ~We are delighted with the quality of the entry and look forward to making our international competitors feel welcome here in the UAE this week.~

After the Prologue stage on the new Palm Jumeira development on Monday, the competitive action switches to the remote deserts of the United Arab Emirates. The official start will be at the Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi at 09.30 on Tuesday morning, where defending bike champion Despres will lead the entry into the first 318 kms special stage across the Monassir Plateau.

After spending the first of three night under the stars at the bivouac, situated near the Liwa oasis, leg two heads out into the Rub Al-Khali (Empty Quarter) for 21 kms to the start of the second 388 kms section. A 58 kms road liaison returns the surviving teams to Liwa. Like the second leg, the third is split by five passage controls and takes teams on a 359 kms loop through the Rub Al-Khali.

The final leg on Friday, October 24th, is split into two special stages. The first starts 29 kms from Liwa and runs for 202 kms. An 81 kms link section then takes competitors into the final 191 kms stage, which finishes near the new Emirates Road. A 25 kms liaison returns teams to the official podium finish at the DIMC at 4pm.

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 His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Minister of Defence.

Top 10 starters - Bikes
1. Cyril Despres (F) KTM 660 Rally
2. Marek Dabrowski (PL) KTM 660 Rally
3. Joan Roma (E) KTM Rally
4. Andy Caldecott (AUS) KTM 660 Rally
5. Francois Flick (F) KTM Replica
6. Jacek Czachor (PL) KTM 660 Rally
7. Oscar Polli (I) KTM 660 Rally
8. Nuno Santos (P) KTM Rally
9. Pal-Anders Ullesvalseter (N) KTM Rally
10. Achim Mortl (A) KTM 660 Rally

Top 10 starters - Cars
201. Carlos Sousa (P)/Henri Magne (AND) Mitsubishi L200 Strakar
202. Jean-Louis Schlesser (F)/Jean-Marie Lurquin (F) Schlesser-Ford
203. Lukasz Komornicki (PL)/Rafal Marton (PL) Mitsubishi Pajero
204. Giniel de Villiers (ZA)/Francois Jordaan (ZA) Nissan Pick-Up
205. Stephane Peterhansel (F)/Jean-Paul Cottret (F) Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution
206. Luc Alphand (F)/Arnaud Debron (F) BMW X5
207. Miki Biasion (I)/Tiziano Siviero (I) Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution
208. Hiroshi Masuoka (J)/Gilles Picard (F) Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution
209. Khalifa Al-Motaiwi (UAE)/Philip Tiefenbach (D) BMW X5
210. Yayha Alhili (UAE)/Khaled Al-Kendi (UAE) Chevrolet Tahoe

FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies - Cars
Positions before UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge*
1. Carlos Sousa (P) 155 pts
2. Jean-Louis Schlesser (F) 114 pts
3. Jean-Pierre Strugo (F) 84 pts
4. Lukasz Komornicki (PL) 66 pts, etc
*45 pts for winner of UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge

FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship - Motorcycles
Positions before UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge*
1. Cyril Despres (F) 61 pts
2. Marek Dabrowski (PL) 58 pts
3. Joan Roma (E) 57 pts
4. Fabrizio Meoni (I) 48 pts
5. Andrew Caldecott (AUS) 47 pts, etc
*25 pts for winner of UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge


For further media information:
Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge press office, Dubai International Marine Club, Dubai, UAE, Tel: + (9714) 3994673, Fax: + (9714) 3994149, Mob: + (971) (050) 5594369
E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com
www.ndp-publicity.com/press releases

Date issued: 19/10/2003

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