x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Father and son aim for Desert Challenge glory

This father and son team are aiming to win the T2 class of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in their Nissan.

This is the first time the father and son team of Yahya Bel Helei and Monsoor, aged 18, will compete together in the Desert Challenge.
This is the first time the father and son team of Yahya Bel Helei and Monsoor, aged 18, will compete together in the Desert Challenge.

It might be showroom fresh, with an unmodified engine that sits within the rules of the T2 class of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, but the wraparound decals, oversized wheels and stripped-out cabin say that this Nissan means business. The latest Patrol from Yahya bel Helei's stable will also be an instructor's car in this year's Desert Challenge, given that for the first time Bel Helei will be accompanied by his son, Monsoor, as co-pilot. Mixing the experience that has seen father finish within the top three of the T2 countless times, with the ambition of youth on board, this first-time pairing has its sights set on an overall win.

"I have done this many times before, and I know that with my son we will do very well," said the Emirati. "I have done a lot of work to this car to make it very good for the Desert Challenge. I have spent Dh260,000 to make it right, enhancing the suspension and shock absorbers, adding reinforcement to the body, and stripping down the cabin to make it light." Yahya will find no surprises behind the wheel of the Patrol, having almost exclusively raced the Japanese off-roader in the Desert Challenge every year, interrupted only by a brief stint in a Chevrolet Tahoe. For him, the big Nissan is perfect for the dunes of the Rub Al Khali.

"The Patrol is very good, very reliable," he explains. "It is light and powerful, even when it is not modified like this one. I am very used to driving this car and I know how to repair it if there are any problems. It is excellent on the sand, much lighter than the Toyota Landcruiser." Now retired from the UAE Special Forces, where he used to fly rescue helicopters, Yahya has been focusing on the big race, and preparing his 18-year-old son for it.

"It has always been a dream to race with my father, and now I am old enough," Monsoor said. "I have always been interested in rallying and now I have the chance to compete. Even though I don't have any experience in the Desert Challenge, I don't see myself as a handicap and we will be going out there to win the race." Like his father, Monsoor is also a big fan of the Patrol. "I like it very much because it is a very good car, and I am used to driving my father's [family] Patrol at home. One day, I hope to race this car myself. I will be going to university soon to study aircraft engineering but I hope I will also have the chance to drive in more races. I would love it if I could make rally driving my career, and I would do it in a Nissan Patrol."

Even though the Patrol certainly looks the part as a consummate rally racer, the decals ? advertising a wide range of Dubai government bodies and services ? are a ruse to fill space. "No, I do not have any sponsorship; I have paid for all this myself. But it looks nice, having these images: Dubai Metro here, for example," says Yahya. Inside, the team has removed all items of comfort - and safety even, with the driver's airbag ripped out, leaving a void in the centre of the steering wheel - so all that is available now is little more than two sports seats, space in the rear for tools, a few rocker switches on the dash and plenty of storage for maps and GPS equipment.

"We need nothing more because it is important for the car to be light on the sand. This Patrol will do very well. We are looking forward to the race." motoring@thenational.ae