Rallying is the oldest form of motorsport in the country, and it will be given a major boost with the advent of the four-round UAE Desert Championship in October, which was announced yesterday.
The inaugural 2013/14 series will consist of four Baja-style events taking place in October, November, January and February, according to Mohammed ben Sulayem, president of the Emirates Motor Sport Federation (EMSF) and the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE.
"The emphasis will be on staging events which are both safe and challenging, to take advantage of the fact that," Bin Sulayem said. "In the UAE, we have the best playground in the world for this type of motorsport." Bin Sulayem explained that the main objective is to bring new life to rallying in the UAE, and ensure it has a bright future "after falling behind in recent years while other areas of motorsport have flourished".
The origins of domestic motorsport track back to the first rallies, staged in the 1970s, leading to the launch of the Dubai International Rally, the nation's longest-running international sporting event.
That event will be staged for the 35th time in November, and remains the climax of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship. However, the former national rally championship lapsed several years ago, leaving a gap in the motorsport calendar, Ben Sulayem said.
The UAE Desert Championship is designed to fill that void and also act as a bridge to the 24th Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, in April, a round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and buggies, and the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for motorbikes and quads.
"They will complement each other," Ben Sulayem said. "Up until now, the Desert Challenge was the only cross-country rally in the UAE."
Atiq Hassan Mubarak, general secretary of the EMSF, said the new series will be sustainable.
"We should quickly get to the stage where we're attracting around 25 cars, 80 bikes and quads and at least 50 buggies," he said. "It will take time to establish the buggies … but there are over 5,000 buggies in the UAE alone, and a lot of buggy owners will be excited by the chance to compete in professionally organised motorsport events which make safety a priority."
The UAE Desert Championship will feature three formats.
One is short-track rallies with a marked route, over six laps of 20 kilometres each and suited to the deserts of Dubai and the Northern Emirates. The second and third formats will be contested in the dramatic terrain of the Western Region of Abu Dhabi: medium-track events of five laps of around 40km, and long-track events of 200km.
Each will require GPS to navigate.
UAE Desert Championship
Round 1 - October 11
Round 2 - November 5
Round 3 - January 31
Round 4 - February 14-15
Competition is open to rally cars, buggies, motorbikes and quads.
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE