x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Quality still the main aim for ben Sulayem

The Emirati, who for the past five years has been the Federation Internationale de l¿Automobile (FIA) vice president for sport, has helped oversee a huge transformation in motorsport in the region, particularly in the UAE, and he is determined to see the country's development continue.

Mohammed ben Sulayem believes the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge shows off the UAE like no other event can.
Mohammed ben Sulayem believes the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge shows off the UAE like no other event can.

Mohammed ben Sulayem is not a man prepared to rest on his laurels and is always looking for ways to improve, no matter what new challenge he faces.

The Emirati, who for the past five years has been the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) vice president for sport, has helped oversee a huge transformation in motorsport in the region, particularly in the UAE, and he is determined to see the country's development continue.

Speaking ahead of the start of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, which begins tomorrow, ben Sulayem said: "I think the UAE is the leading the way now in Middle East motorsport, but we should not be happy with just doing that.

"We need to keep on pushing ourselves to do better, to keep improving and find new levels and challenges for us to complete. We can do this, but we need to keep working hard to progress and become even better."

Ben Sulayem has a lot to be proud of when he looks at the state of UAE motorsport.

The 49-year-old has been behind huge developments in racing, facilities and Emirati involvement, from driving to stewarding, in his role as the president of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE).

But one of the events he takes most pride in is the Desert Challenge, which runs until Thursday and sees some of the world's best drivers compete in cars, bikes, quads and lorries over 1,500 kilometres of competitive stages.

Ben Sulayem, as the chairman of the organising committee of the event, is proud of how the event, which is in its 20th year, has grown to the extent that it is now the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship season-opener and the second round of the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup.

"This is the 20th edition of the event and it is really growing from strength to strength, he said."

"But to me what is important is that we are concerned with quality, not quantity, and we have produced an event with fantastic facilities and something that truly tests the driver."

While there is the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix representing motorsport in the region, ben Sulayem believes that the Desert Challenge gives the emirate a chance to show people what the place is truly like, and can be useful as a way of encouraging people to come and visit the UAE.

The 14-times Middle East Rally Champion said: "The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is a big event as it is a chance to show the world properly our country, and to show people Abu Dhabi and the UAE.

"This year we have made a step forward with the fact there is going to be a team from Eurosport filming during the event, and lots of people will get to see the beauty of the region and the tough terrain that the competitors will be taking on.

"The quality of the people taking part and the growing exposure of the event can only reflect positively on Abu Dhabi.

"It is showing the reward for the investment in the event, and interest over the years has developed in it to help make it carry the heritage and respect that it does today."

The event will feature a field of 115 vehicles with participants from more than 30 countries. Teams and competitors will be based next to the five-star Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort in the Liwa region and at the Yas Marina Circuit.

While the success of the event and its high regard on the calendar has earned the emirate praise, a place in the World Rally Championship (WRC) series has yet to come to fruition.

There had been hope that Abu Dhabi would be on this year's WRC itinerary, and while that did not happen, with Jordan getting a place, ben Sulayem believes that the emirate will be well placed to host a WRC event when it feels ready to and wants to put forward a case for it.

"There is no disappointment or any reason to be," he said. "When the time is right in the future, I am sure Abu Dhabi will have a world rally event, and host it to a high standard.

"But we must keep working to ensure our standards are high so that we are prepared when the opportunity does come."