Preparing for World Cup battle in UAE
A Prime Minister, a Member of the European Parliament, and a double World Rally Champion have brought Mohammed Ben Sulayem out of retirement in the countdown to the UAE Desert Challenge.
Sulayem, who has not driven competitively
since capturing his 14th Middle East rally title four years, has been back behind the wheel on successive days in the build-up to the event he launched 16 years ago.
This morning (Friday) he was called into action to help Volkswagen stars Ari Vatanen and Carlos Sainz test their Race Touareg 2 prototypes before they go into action in the final round of the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup.
Vatanen, one of the world's rallying legends and a current MEP, and Sainz, World Rally Champion in 1990 and 1992, wanted some of Sulayem's local knowledge of UAE desert conditions to help them prepare for the approaching battle with Mitsubishi and BMW.
Just 24 hours earlier, Sulayem had driven one of the mighty Kamaz factory trucks in a race up Dubai's famous Big Red dune against Rustam Minnikhanov, the Prime Minister of the Russian Republic of Tatarstan, who aims for his fourth trucks title in five years next week.
Nobody was saying who won, although Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club for the UAE and chairman of the organising committee, admitted: “It was very close, and I enjoyed it.
“It must have been fun for anyone watching to see two trucks racing up the dune, and it made me realise how good the Prime Minister is.
“It's really tough to handle a vehicle like that which has such a high centre of gravity. You've just got to have respect for somebody who has been so successful driving trucks in the Desert Challenge and the Dakar Rally.”
Sulayem later accepted an invitation from Prime Minister Minnikhanov – who missed last year's Desert Challenge because of a broken leg – to visit Tatarstan later in the year. “He and his team have been very good to this event and they love coming back here, and I'm looking forward to visiting the country and the Kamaz factory.”
Among the drivers and riders from around the world assembling in Dubai, where the Desert Challenge is launched by a super special spectator stage on Sunday afternoon, Sainz was quickly on the phone to close friend Sulayem on arrival.
“He just called and said ‘Mohammed – come and show us how to drive in the sand.' There aren't many people who can teach Carlos Sainz or Ari Vatanen much about rally driving, but it was great to see them both, and pass on some tips about driving in the UAE desert.”
The 2006 UAE Desert Challenge takes place under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and is sponsored by Nakheel, Dubai's premier property developer.
The event, which doubles up as the last round of the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship, is also sponsored by Nissan Middle East - the Nissan Patrol is the rally's official car – FedEx, Castrol, Hertz UAE, Inmarsat, the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, ADNOC, and Emarat.