As competitors arrive from around the world, huge team effort turns Al Dhafra site into 24/7 rally village
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
With the might of the new World Rally-Raid Championship heading for the UAE capital, a big logistical operation is nearing completion for the 31st edition of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
Competitors from around the globe check in at Yas Marina Circuit, the rally HQ, on Friday morning ahead of Saturday’s official start, and the traditional Sunday morning departure into the the Al Dhafra Region, where the main action takes place.
There is no more dramatic setting in the entire rally-raid series, and 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 spectacular 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, which serves 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, as well as the opening of new internal roads for the ADDC family to be able to move around the tailormade village.
Some of the old existing access roads in the area have also been refurbished to facilitate the passage of 600 vehicles during the event.
No-one in the rally-raid world appreciates the event’s natural assets, demands and facilities more than Stephane Peterhansel, who aims for another place in the record books of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge next week.
“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,” said the Frenchman, who will be partnered by Edouard Boulanger in an Audi RS Q e-tron.
Peterhansel 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 match the eight wins of Spanish rider Marc Coma.
Over the years, the bivouac has seen many hopes of victory, and others of simply going the distance, 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 (EMSO), the rally organisers, UAE Government and local authorities, to preserve the desert environment close to the Qasr Al Sarab Resort.
“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 UAE’s 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 – 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 of 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 bivouac equipped to meet the demands of the World Rally-Raid series 24/7.
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge takes place under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in Al Dhafra Region.
The rally’s strategic partners are the Ruler’s Representative Court Al Dhafra Region, the Ministry of Defence & UAE Armed Forces, Abu Dhabi Sports Council, ADNOC Distribution, Al-Futtaim Toyota, Abu Dhabi Police, Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi Aviation, National Ambulance, Abu Dhabi Municipality, Abu Dhabi Distribution Co., Al Dhafra Region Municipality, Al-Ain Water, Abu Dhabi Sports TV, Civil Defence and the Abu Dhabi Waste Management Center.