ABU DHABI // And then there were seven.
Organisers of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge had worried over the weekend that 40 of the 122 vehicles in the race might not arrive on time.
But the ship transporting them docked in Jebel Ali yesterday morning and the vehicles took part in yesterday's scrutineering, a series of pre-race technical checks.
Now, only seven of the race vehicles are late - delayed because the two lorries carrying them from Italy had visa issues at Saudi Arabia's northern border.
"We are still trying to get them but we don't know when they'll get here," said Mahir Badri, the chief executive of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, which organises the race.
Two employees from the club had to fly to Saudi Arabia two days ago to drive the lorries across the country. "They should be driving across Saudi Arabia now," Mr Badri said.
This means some competitors will have to check in their vehicles very close to tomorrow's start of the 2,000-kilometre race. And even though the car owners will be allowed a "special permit" to do their technical checks, Mr Badri said they would be penalised for the delay.
"I want to avoid this so I'm pushing hard to get them here soon," he said.
The race, which is to end on Friday, was to include 122 competitors from 35 countries, with 45 four-wheel-drive vehicles and 77 motorcycles and quad bikes.
In preparation for the race through the unforgiving terrain of the Liwa desert and the Moreeb area of the Empty Quarter, competitors carefully scrutinised their vehicles on Yas Island.
Camelia Liparoti checked the navigation system of her Yamaha Raptor 700 yesterday, and said the motorcycle also needed a "noise test" to ensure that it met the required limits.
"I also have to check the GPS and the balise," she said, referring to a location beacon attached to the bike.
This is the Franco-Italian quad rider's fourth appearance at the desert challenge, and though she has been racing for seven years, the challenge still inspires her.
"I was first given a quad in Mauritania as a photojournalist and I fell in love with the machine," said Liparoti, who won the female motorcycle category in Abu Dhabi last year. "And the feeling is still there."
This is not the only obstacle to have threatened the organisers' progress recently - a gas pipeline that passes through the race's route had to be cut back by the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.
"They also had to stop building another part of it so it wouldn't obstruct the rally," Mr Badri said.
In the meantime, many competitors were focused on the difficult conditions ahead.
Liparoti said she was slightly concerned about racing in the desert because "it is very tough".
"This is because the dunes are broken, very large and there can be soft sand in some parts as well as sandstorms and high temperatures," she said.
"If you can ride the dunes in the UAE, you can ride them anywhere in the world."