ABU DHABI: With the new World Rally-Raid Championship heading for the UAE capital, a large logistical operation is nearing completion for the 31st edition of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge starting March 6.
Competitors from around the globe will check in at Yas Marina Circuit, the rally headquarters, on Friday morning ahead of Saturday’s official start, before the traditional Sunday morning departure into Al-Dhafra, where the main action takes place.
The world’s top drivers and riders will be tested to the limit over desert stages of 264 km, 318 km, 270 km, 257 km and 217 km.
Taking the cars, trucks, bikes and quads on a journey into the “Empty Quarter,” the five competitive sections of the rally are centred on a bivouac that will host more than 800 competitors, technicians, officials, medical staff, volunteers and media representatives.
Working in shifts around the clock for several weeks, a 200-strong team has transformed an isolated desert basin, circled by dunes, into a fully equipped rally village, to serve as an active desert base for five nights.
The operation included extensive ground works in which heavy machinery was used to prepare the terrain to receive the infrastructure specially built for the rally.
Old existing access roads in the area have also been refurbished to facilitate the passage of vehicles during the event.
Stephane Peterhansel, the Frenchman aiming for another place in the record books of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge next week, said: “To have a race like this in the new championship is really important, because the spirit of cross country is found in the desert, especially the dunes.”
Peterhansel, partnered by Edouard Boulanger in an Audi RS Q e-tron, captured the bikes crown on his first UAE visit 26 years ago, before a run of six cars wins from 2002 to 2019. Success next week would take him clear of Jean-Louis Schlesser as the first driver to claim seven victories, and overall to match the eight wins of Spanish rider Marc Coma.
Over the years, the bivouac has seen many chasing victory rescued by mechanics toiling through the night to prepare rally machinery for the next day’s early morning start.
Its construction, upkeep and eventual dismantling after the rally moves on involves a major team effort by the Emirates Motorsports Organization, the rally organizers, UAE government and local authorities, to preserve the desert environment close to Qasr Al-Sarab.
“The government authorities and the Ministry of Defence through the UAE Armed Forces give us enormous support to set up and equip the bivouac, and make our environmental policies work so effectively,” said Khalid Bin Sulayem, the EMSO’s newly-elected president.
The Ministry of Defence has delivered most of the bivouac’s infrastructure and power, while the portable and tended community awaiting competitors has been built with the help of the Cultural Programs and Heritage Festivals Committee of Abu Dhabi.
Teams from Al-Dhafra Municipality and the Abu Dhabi Waste Management Center will deliver round-the-clock upkeep of the site throughout the rally, recycling all waste to prevent any littering of the desert or oil leakages.
Systems in place to recycle around 90,000 liters of water used daily have been put in place by Abu Dhabi Distribution Company. The result of the operation is a location equipped to meet the demands of the World Rally-Raid series.
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