ABU DHABI // It is almost 70 years since Wilfred Thesinger, the British explorer, first crossed the barren, uninhabitable Liwa desert. This weekend, when the second Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge gets under way, the 111 vehicles racing their way across the inhospitable terrain will be greeted by some of the emirate's most illustrious modern landmarks. Encompassing the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Yas Marina Circuit, 36 cars and four trucks will compete in what is also the opening round of the Cross-Country Rallies World Cup, while 57 motorcyclists and 14 quads will do battle in round one of the Cross-Country Rallies World Championship. Last year's winner in the auto-mobile category, Team X-Raid, will compete again, with Russia's Leonid Novitskiy partnering Germany's Andreas Schultz. The duo finished 11th overall at this year's Dakar Rally in South America.
Flying the flag for the UAE is Yahya Bel Helei, who, after finishing runner-up for the second successive year in 2009, has replaced his regular racing partner Khalid al Kendi with his inexperienced 18-year-old son, Mansour Bel Helei. Saeed al Dhaheri, of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, said the UAE capital is hoping to use the Grand Mosque, Yas Marina and other landmarks such as Al Forsan International Sports Resort to promote the emirate, while the annual Desert Challenge can showcase the Abu Dhabi's commitment to motorsports. The capital is bidding to secure a round of the World Rally Championship, but is awaiting approval from the FIA, the world motor sports governing body. The six-day event gets underway tomorrow. @Email:email@example.com