The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge (30 March-4 April), the second round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies, is one of the most spectacular desert rallies in the world. Celebrating its 29th edition, the event provides a challenge like no other as competitors surf the sand of some of the world’s biggest dunes in the largest uninterrupted expanse of desert on the globe, the famed Rub Al Khali, or Empty Quarter in the Al Dafrah Region.

It will be another epic adventure in the ever-changing dunes and it is little wonder the event has again enticed some of the world’s top cross country drivers. Stéphane Peterhansel, winner of the Dakar Rally 13 times on both bikes and in cars, is back in action with the MINI X-Raid Team and the six-time Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge winner will have wife Andrea navigating him, herself a former factory cross country rider and driver.

Khalid Al Qassimi is once again flying the flag for the United Arab Emirates and the 2017 winner, partnered by Xavier Panseri, will be looking to claim his first win of the season after narrowly missing victory on the Dubai International Baja earlier this month.

The competition will be strong, however, as a procession of the world’s top drivers adorn the entry list, promising a sensational showdown for the coveted trophy. Yazeed Al Rajhi, second in the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies standings, will lead the crews into the desert and while victory in Abu Dhabi has so far eluded the Saudi Arabian, he too has already tasted the podium this year. Vladimir Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov, third in the World Cup classification, are double winners in Abu Dhabi, the Russians taking victory in 2014 and 2015, while Hamad Yasir Seaidan is currently fifth, courtesy of his fourth place on the opening round in Qatar. Bernhard Ten Brinke and navigator Tom Colsoul partner Al Rajhi in a second Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux, the Dutch/Belgian pairing just two points further adrift in the title fight.

Reigning Champion Jakub Przygonski claimed second in last year’s Desert Challenge and the Pole and German co-driver Timo Gottschalk will be aiming for back-to-back victories in the UAE after winning the Dubai International Baja on their first outing in the MINI John Cooper Works Buggy. Further opposition will again come from last year’s winner Martin Prokop, the Czech driver back behind the wheel of the Ford Raptor and competing in his first FIA World Cup Cross Country Rally of the season. Cyril Despres, who won the Desert Challenge no fewer than five times on a bike, also joins Peterhansel and the MINI X-Raid Team.

Miroslav Zapletal returns in his Ford F150 Evo, the Czech driver finishing 10th on the Qatar Cross Country Rally, and Aron Domzala also joins Overdrive Racing in the team’s third car. Mohammed Almeer tops T2 after taking the category win on the opening round, in T3, competition is sure to be tough as Reinaldo Varela looks to extend his advantage in the World Cup standings, and Ibrahim Al Muhana from Saudi Arabia is back in T4 in a Mercedes Unimog Truck.

The world-class facilities at the Yas Marina Circuit, home to Formula One racing in the UAE capital, will play host to Rally Headquarters with the purpose-built bivouac located out in the desert. After a ceremonial start at the circuit on Saturday 30 March, crews then gear up for competitive action on Sunday morning, kick-starting five days of action over 1,284 competitive kilometres. On Thursday 4 April, crews then return to the Yas Marina Circuit for the podium and prize-giving.


Total distance   

2,006.73 km

Selective section distance:

1,283.31 km (64%)

Number of selective sections:




Yazeed Al Rajhi/Dirk Von Zitzewitz

Toyota Hilux Overdrive

Vladimir Vasilyev/Konstantin Zhiltsov


Yasir Hamad Seaidan/Ariff Mohammed

Nissan Navara

Bernhard Ten Brinke/Tom Colsoul

Toyota Hilux Overdrive

Miroslav Zapletal/Marek Sykora

Ford F150 Evo

Sh. Khalid Al Qassimi/Xavier Panseri

Peugeot 3008 DKR

Jakub Przygonski/Timo Gottschalk

MINI John Cooper Works Buggy

Stéphane Peterhansel/Andrea Peterhansel

MINI John Cooper Works Rally

Martin Prokop/Viktor Chytka

Ford Raptor RS Cross Country

Cyril Despres/Daniel Oliveras

MINI John Cooper Works Buggy

Aron Domzala/Maciej Marton

Toyota Hilux Overdrive



Thursday 28 March


Pre-event Press Conference, Yas Marina Circuit

11:30 hrs


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Friday 29 March


Scrutineering (UAE entries)

From 13:00 hrs


Saturday 30 March



From 07:00 hrs

Competitors Briefing

18:30 hrs

Ceremonial Start

19:30 hrs


Sunday 31 March – Leg 1


Start of SS1 (261.97 kilometres)

09:00 hrs

First car arrives bivouac

12:38 hrs approx.


Monday 1 April – Leg 2


Start of SS2 (222.80 kilometres)

08:00 hrs

First car arrives bivouac

11:40 hrs approx.


Tuesday 2 April – Leg 3


Start of SS3 (297.97 kilometres)

08:00 hrs

First car arrives bivouac

11:30 hrs approx.


Wednesday 3 April – Leg 4


Start of SS4 (286.10 kilometres)

08:00 hrs

First car arrives bivouac

13:20 hrs approx.


Thursday 4 April – Leg 5


Start of SS5 (214.47 kilometres)

07:00 hrs

Rally finish

12:30 hrs

Podium ceremony

17:00 hrs


20:00 hrs