Al-Attiyah and Gutiérrez amongst the winners of the ADNOC Oasis Prologue in front of Al Dhannah City crowds

Al Dhannah, Monday February 26: The opening round of the the 33rd Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge took place in Al Dhannah City today with a win for Nasser Al-Attiyah and his new co-driver Édouard Boulanger in the Ultimate category. Driving a Nasser Racing by Prodrive Hunter, Al-Attiyah was four seconds ahead of Guillaume de Mevius (Overdrive Racing) and six faster than Martin Prokop (Orlen), Lucas Moraes (Toyota Gazoo Racing), and Yazeed Al Rajhi (Overdrive Racing). Guerlain Chicherit (Overdrive Racing), came in sixth place, seven seconds back, while Seth Quintero (Toyota Gazoo Racing) was tenth at 12 seconds behind.

In the Challenger category, Cristina Gutiérrez picked up where she left off in the Dakar last month, winning the Prologue, beating Nicolás Cavigliasso (Taurus Factory Wevers) by two seconds, Rokas Baciuška (Can-Am Factory) and Laia Sanz (BBR) by three, plus Austin Jones (Can-Am Factory) and Dania Akeel (Taurus Factory Wevers) by nine.

Among the bikes, Hero’s Ross Branch clocked the fastest time, beating Kinigadner’s nephew Tobias Ebster (SRG Motorsports) by seven seconds, before being relegated to last place for missing two waypoints. Mohammed Al Balooshi failed to start following a problem with the specification of his helmet. In the Quads, Polish rider Kamil Wiśniewski, in his first Desert Challenge since 2017, finished three seconds ahead of last year’s winner and local hero Abdulaziz Ahli.

An enthusiastic crowd filled the designated spectator zone on the 5-kilometre route, as the competitors battled hard on a terrain that featured dirt and soft sand for the chance to decide their start positions for the next stage. The Prologue’s ten fastest drivers and riders will choose how they start the gruelling 374-kilometre Ruler’s Representative Court in Al Dhafra Region Stage 1 on Tuesday (27th February). Starting positions will be especially important for Stage 1 given the arduous and highly demanding route, the most demanding stage in this year’s Desert Challenge.

Following on from last year, when the Prologue was held in Al Dhannah City for the first time, large crowds of locals, as well as race fans from all over the region and beyond, came to watch the show. This year the arrival of the Desert Challenge in the coastal city features an extensive program of public outreach and activations, which include a visit to the children’s wing of the Al Dhannah Hospital by off-road superstar Nasser Al-Attiyah. The Qatari also met up with excited local school kids, where members of the young community of Al Dhannah City were thrilled to chat and take photos with him.

There is also an open bivouac in the downtown area of the city next to the traditional souk, with the organisers, the Emirates Motorsport Organisation (EMSO), inviting the public on Monday and Tuesday evenings to get up close and personal with the teams as part of an evolving plan to bring more of the population into the story of the Desert Challenge.

This year’s race covers a similar distance to last year, but overall is considerably more demanding, which is significant given that the Desert Challenge is generally considered as one of the toughest races in the W2RC calendar.

On top of that, many elements of the route are new, including a second bivouac in Mezaira’a. Emirates Motor Sport Organisation President Khalid Bin Sulayem, said: “This latest visit to Al Dhannah City marks a highly positive step in the popularisation of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, bringing the racing action closer to the people and the many sports fans who visit the UAE. In view of the logistical challenges of hosting such a complex event in the Rub’ Al Khali, everything went very smoothly thanks to the support of the Al Dhannah authorities and the generous hospitality of ADNOC Distribution.” The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative Court in Al Dhafra Region; presented by the Abu Dhabi Sports Council; with the support of this year’s Energy partner ADNOC Distribution; Automotive partner Al-Futtaim Toyota; Abu Dhabi Aviation; Al Ain Water; Governmental support from the Ministry of Defence & UAE Armed Forces , Abu Dhabi Police,  Civil Defence, Abu Dhabi Distribution Co, Al Dhafra Region Municipality, and our media partner Abu Dhabi Sports TV