DUBAI // Taking part in the world's most gruelling off-road race has been a lifelong dream for Mohammed ben Sulayem, the decorated Arab rally driver.
He still hopes to fulfil it someday, but for the moment he is happy that Abdullah Al Heraiz and Mohammed Al Balooshi will be flying the UAE flag at the Dakar Rally instead.
Al Heraiz took part in the event this year and finished 26th out of the 55 cars. He will be returning to Argentina next year, along with his co-driver, Khaled Al Kendi, while KTM-UAE Racing Team's Al Balooshi, winner of the last two Arab motocross championships, will be making his first appearance at the event on his motorbike.
"The Dakar Rally is the most gruelling race in the world and it takes great bravery and detertmination to complete it," ben Sulayem, president of the UAE's motorsport-governing body, the Automobile and Touring Club (ATC), said.
"It is a massive challenge and a dream for the drivers. Even to me, it was a dream and I always said, 'One day I am going to do it'.
"But people run out of time. Still, it is a challenge that I would like to take on some day. It is still there in my mind."
The 2012 Dakar Rally will start on January 1 from Mar del Plata in Argentina and pass through Chile before finishing in Lima, Peru, on January 15.
Through those 14 days, the drivers will have traversed 9,600kms of South American road, deserts and mountains.
"Believe me, what these three will face is beyond imagination," ben Sulayem, vice president of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile, said.
"People we send through the ATC as stewards, they don't want to go again because of the fatigue. These are just officials, imagine the exhaustion that the driver goes through.
"Fatigue is a major factor and you have to really train your mind to stay focused. Car reliability is also an important issue."
Al Heraiz and Al Kendi overcome all those obstacles on their first appearance at the Dakar. They had a respectable finish, considering that only 55 of the 156 cars that started the race were there at the end.
Getting to the race itself was a challenge for the duo, with no sponsors coming forward to assist them.
"The idea to participate in the Dakar came two years ago, but we could not find a sponsor for us," said Al Heraiz, who finished third among the new participants and fourth in the T2 Diesel category.
"So me and Khalid decided to go on our own. We called some companies to rent a car with their full team, A To Z."
This time, though, the two drivers and Al Balooshi will have the support of Dubai Sports Council (DSC).
"We wish our boys all the luck in the Dakar Rally, which is considered one of the most prestigious events in motorsports, and we are confident in their ability to represent the UAE as ambassadors, not just competitors, in this global event," Dr Ahmed Sharif, secretary general of DSC, said.