Abu Dhabi, March, 25: Stephane Peterhansel, the most successful competitor in the history of cross country rallying, will take his place in a star-studded line-up for the 29th Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, the second round of FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies, beginning on Saturday (March 30).
Driving an X-raid Mini John Cooper Works buggy the Frenchman, who has won the event five times as a driver and once as a rider, will be partnered by his wife, Andrea Mayer, who has previously finished the rally on two and four wheels and returns as a navigator for the first time.
They are among 119 competitors from 34 countries in the official entry list issued by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE), the rally organisers, who are now busily preparing for the start at Yas Marina Circuit, the event's official HQ.
From there the next morning 80 cars, buggies, bikes and quads will set off for five spectacular desert stages across the giant dunes and sabka plains of the Al Dafrah Region.
Czech defending champion Martin Prokop is back at the wheel of a Ford Raptor RS, Poland's Jakub Przygonski returns to action in the Mini John Cooper Works Buggy which took him to a second victory in a row in the recent Dubai International Baja while the UAE's Khalid Al Qassimi chases his second Desert Challenge triumph in his Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR.
Frenchman Cyril Despres, a five-times Desert Challenge bikes winner, drives another X-raid Mini John Cooper Works buggy while Yasir Seaidan in a Nissan Navara is one of five Saudis entered.
Another Saudi, Khaled Al Feraihi at the wheel of a Nissan Patrol Pick Up, will be aiming to succeed fellow-countryman Ahmed Al Shegawi as winner of the T2 production cars category.
Starting his 29th consecutive Desert Challenge in a Nissan Pick Up is Yahya Al Helei, one of five drivers carrying the UAE flag. Spain's Jose-Luis Pena Campo returns to UAE action in a Polaris looking to retain his buggies title.
Sam Sunderland, the 2017 Desert Challenge bikes champion, is the top seed among 41 riders for the opening round of this year's FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship.
His biggest challengers this time include last year's third-placed Argentinian Kevin Benavides and his Honda team-mates Joan Barreda Bort of Spain and Chile's Jose Cornejo, as well as KTM's Argentinian rider Luciano Benavides and American Husqvarna rider Andrew Short.
Following the ceremonial start at Yas Marina Circuit, the powerful assembly of cars, buggies, bikes and quads heads out from Abu Dhabi for the first of five demanding desert stages in the Al Dafrah Region.
For five nights the 800-strong contingent will be encamped at a purpose-built bivouac close to the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara.
The event finishes at 5pm on Thursday, April 4 back at Yas Marina Circuit which hosts the official prize giving the same evening.
Peterhansel, who won the Desert Challenge bikes title in 1996 and secured the last of his five cars victories in 2011, is among 39 drivers contesting the second round of the 2019 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and buggies.
The most celebrated competitor in Dakar Rally history, with six bikes triumphs between 1991-1998 and seven cars victories from 2004-2017, Peterhansel first competed with his wife beside him in the 2016 Italian Baja - while on honeymoon.
Heading the seedings list are the top two from this year's FIA World Cup standings after the first round in Qatar, Saudi Arabia's Yazeed Al Aajhi in a Toyota Hillux Overdrive and Russia's 2014 and 2015 Desert Challenge winner Vladimir Vasilyev in a BMW X3.
(Source: Total Communications)