x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge's first leg is a sprint across oceans

A third of the vehicles scheduled to embark on the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on Monday have yet to arrive in the UAE.

ABU DHABI // A third of the vehicles scheduled to embark on the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on Monday have yet to arrive in the UAE.

Organisers remain optimistic that the race will start as planned.

The delay is attributed to the late announcement of the cross-rally race, which left organisers with scant time to ship vehicles.

"We tried our best to be on time," said Maher Badri, chief executive of the Automobile and Touring Club of the United Arab Emirates, which organises the race. "The announcement of the rally was very late because we had a sponsorship issue," Mr Badri said, adding that organisers had three months to prepare what would normally require a year.

By the time the news reached the bulk of competitors in South America and Europe, time was running short. And now, in the crunch, a US Navy Military Sealift Command vessel is still to arrive containing more than 40 motorcycles and four-wheel drives.

Mr Badri said the vessel was travelling from Genoa, Italy to Jebel Ali and was expected to arrive at 6am today.

But some competitors were growing uneasy at the thought of not having their vehicles on hand until a couple of days before the start of the race.

Patrick Sireyjol, a 49-year-old French competitor, said he was worried because his buggy had not arrived in Abu Dhabi yet.

"We have a lot of work to do on the car through the night and we might be a bit constrained on time to do all the technical checks [today]," Mr Sireyjol said.

He appointed two mechanics to take care of his vehicle throughout the night to make sure he had time to rest for the race.

"We thought we'd have the car two days ago but we didn't have any luck," Mr Sireyjol said. "We thought we'd have finished everything by now but we're just rushed because of time."

Other issues are aggravating the delays. An Italian lorry carrying seven cars encountered visa problems in Saudi Arabia.

"They are almost stuck there because the truck driver doesn't have the visa to enter Saudi," Mr Badri said. "So we have to send our people with the visa to drive the car here and fly the other people over."

Mr Badri is trying to remain hopeful all the vehicles will be present at the scrutineering check today, where all technical checks are done. "We will wait until the last person finishes their checks, even if it's until 5am," said Mr Badri.

Mohammed bin Sulayem, the touring-club president and chairman of the race, said competitors "should not worry about their vehicles ... They will all be here on time."

The race, which is to end on Friday, is to include 122 competitors from 35 countries, with 45 four-wheel drive vehicles, and 77 motorcycles and quad bikes. Participants drive through the Liwa desert and the Moreeb area of the Empty Quarter.

cmalek@thenational.ae