Overdrive Racing will field three Toyota Hiluxes in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, round two of the 2019 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, which starts as the Yas Marina circuit on Saturday (March 30) and finishes on Thursday, April 4.
The Belgian car preparations company claimed victory at the opening round of the revised four-event series in Qatar last month, but series leader Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah will not be making the trip to the remote deserts of the United Arab Emirates.
Overdrive’s hopes rest in the hands of Saudi Arabian driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi, Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke and Poland’s Aron Domzala on this occasion.
Al-Rajhi claimed second position behind Al-Attiyah at the opening round in Qatar on his return to the team to drive a Toyota Hilux and he and new German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz have an excellent opportunity to snatch the championship lead over five gruelling competitive selective sections through the UAE’s Empty Quarter or Rub Al-Khali desert. The experienced Saudi began the season with seventh place at the Dakar Rally in Peru.
Ten Brinke teamed up with Belgian co-driver Tom Colsoul again at the start of the season and the duo survived a few niggling issues on the season opener at Lusail to reach the finish in fifth place in the final standings. That has given the Dutch-Belgian duo a perfect stepping stone from which to launch their title challenge this season on the remaining three rounds of the series in Abu Dhabi, Kazakhstan and Morocco.
Aron Domzala returns to the Overdrive Racing line-up for the first time since the Dakar Rally alongside fellow Pole Maciej Marton. The young driver has shown an excellent turn of pace in the last couple of seasons and will be looking for a consistent performance in the UAE.
The 2017 winner of the Baja Russia Northern Forest Rally was running as high as eighth overall in this year’s Dakar rally after three days before retiring. He finished third overall in the FIA World Cup two years ago behind Al-Attiyah and Jakub Przygonski and will be hoping to return to that level of form and consistency in 2019.
Competition will be fierce on the second round of the championship with the Toyotas facing the likes of multiple Dakar winners Stéphane Peterhansel and Cyril Despres, defending FIA World Cup champion Przygonski and the local Abu Dhabi hero and 2017 event winner Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi.
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge has been a counting round of the FIA World Cup since 1993 and is one of the most demanding on the off-road calendar with its stunning sand dune complexes and energy-sapping heat. Toyota’s sole victory so far came courtesy of Al-Attiyah and his French navigator Matthieu Baumel in 2016.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix circuit at Yas Marina plays host to start formalities but the meat of the action takes place over five challenging desert stages of 261.97km, 222.80km, 297.97km, 286.10km and 214.47km from March 31 through to April 4.
These desert sections take place in the areas around Liwa, Hameem amd Arada, deep in the UAE’s desert heartland. The finish will be back at Yas Marina on April 4.
FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies – standings after round 1:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT) 30pts
2. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU) 21pts
3. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS) 16pts
4. Reinaldo Varela (BRA) 13pts
5. Yasir Seaidan (SAU) 12pts
6. Bernhard Ten Brinke (NLD) 10pts
7. Fedor Vorobyev (RUS) 9pts
8. Camelia Liparoti (ITA) 5pts
8. Mohammed Al-Meer (QAT) 5pts
10. Eugenio Amos (ITA) 2pts
11. Miroslav Zapletal (CZE) 1pt
Source: Overdrive Racing press release