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Six weeks after the finish of the Dakar Rally, the historic first round of the unified FIA and FIM World Rally-Raid Championships, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is preparing to host the second round of the 2022 calendar and to enter the new W2RC era. > The 31st edition of the Abu Dhabi event is a new departure while continuing a long tradition: the Emirates round is the oldest and most loyal FIA and FIM world series event in history.

All the contenders for the W2RC titles will be present from 5 to 10 March 2022: the creme de la creme of the rally-raid world will battle, with the duel between Nasser Al-Attiyah (Toyota Gazoo Racing) and Sébastien Loeb (Bahrain Raid Extreme) in the car category, as well as the battle pitting Sam Sunderland (GasGas) against his rivals at Honda rivals in the motorcycle category. "Chaleco" López (South Racing Can-Am) in the Light-Prototypes, Austin Jones in SSV and Martin Macik in the trucks also took the lead on the Dakar and will have to keep their pursuers at bay to aim for the titles.

Abu Dhabi: quite a history

The calendar of the new W2RC is from the outset established between innovation and tradition thanks to its first two symbolic events. In January, it was the Dakar itself that integrated and unified the FIA and FIM World Rally-Raid Championships for the first time in history. In March, it will be the event that holds the longevity record within the world series of the discipline that will enter the scene.

For both the car and bike categories, Abu Dhabi is a cornerstone of both of their historic calendars. In 2021, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge celebrated its 30th anniversary. This event, which has become a must-attend, features several former winners among the favourites for W2RC honours. First and foremost is Nasser Al-Attiyah (Toyota Gazoo Racing), who has won three times in Abu Dhabi (2008, 2016 and 2021). Vladimir Vasilyev (VRT Team) won the World Cup in 2014 and is a two-time winner of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge (2014-15). Nani Roma (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) took top honours in 2013. We then have to go back to 2009 to find the trace of Guerlain Chicherit’s last victory (GCK Motorsport). In the motorbike category, four riders have won the last five editions: Sam Sunderland (2017-19), Matthias Walkner (2021), Toby Price (2016), and Pablo Quintanilla (2018).

Cars: Al-Attiyah, the point that changes everything

In the FIA W2RC general classifications, the battles are already on the boil. At the top of the rankings, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel have already made their mark. Leaders with 85 points, the duo has enjoyed the support of Yazeed Al-Rajhi, third on the Dakar and in the provisional classification (51 points), to allow Toyota Gazoo Racing to accumulate 80 points in the Constructors' classification. A small lead that the Bahrain Raid Xtreme and X-Raid Mini JCW teams, tied on 45 points, will try to narrow as soon as possible. BRX is back this year with Sébastien Loeb. Second on the Dakar, the French and Fabian Lurquin are only 1 point behind Al-Attiyah (84 points), thanks to their daily performances in Saudi Arabia. Denis Krotov, at the wheel of the X-Raid Mini JCW buggy will aim at a new podium in Abu Dhabi like his teammate, the Polish Jakub Przygonski who had fought for a long time at the second place during the last edition. Another loner could threaten "Kuba": in 5th position with 33 points, Mathieu Serradori (SRT Racing) is only three lengths behind. The Argentine Sébastian Halpern, who will drive for the first time in a Toyota Hilux, will try to do better than his 5th place achieved last November.

T3 / T4: « Chaleco » and Jones set the pace

The protagonists made themselves known on the Dakar. In T3, "Chaleco" López (South Racing Can-Am) seized the opportunity of his time in the category to win the Dakar and take the lead (90 points). The two OT3s of the Red Bull Off-Road Junior team of Cristina Gutiérrez (72 points) and Seth Quintero (63 points) complete the top three. De Mevius and Guthrie will complete the armada of the Red Bull Off-Road Junior team. After a Dakar during which he encountered problems, Jean-Luc Pisson, driving a PH-Sport Zephyr, will try to shine on the ADDC. Saleh Alsaif, an independent driver and neighbour from Saudi Arabia, should show off his driving skills in the dunes. In T4, the South Racing clan leads the way. Austin Jones (Can-Am Factory South Racing) won the Dakar and took the lead in the championship with 83 points. He has some breathing room over his two rivals that are equal on points. Rokas Baciuška (South Racing Can-Am) and Marek Goczał (Cobant Energylandia Rally Team) each have 68 points. The Pole's brother and team-mate Michal Goczał is fourth (57 points). Despite his 8th place in the provisional standings (8 points), everyone will have to keep an eye on the young Lucas del Rio. The Chilean, who arrived last year on the FIA rally-raids, missed his first Dakar in January and will be keen to show his potential. The intra-team struggle in the German clan will likely be fratricidal.  

Trucks: Macík in the lead

In the T5 category, the duel between the Iveco Powerstar Big Shock Racing trucks of Martin Macík and Kees Koolen has begun. The Czech gained the advantage on the Dakar, with 108 points versus 86 points for the Dutchman.

Bikes: “Sundersam” practically at home

Red is in the spotlight in the premier Rally GP category, but not always from the same constructor! Sam Sunderland won the Dakar on his GasGas Factory Racing bike and is the provisional leader with 38 points. His team-mate, Daniel Sanders, who crashed on his way out of Riyadh, wasn't able to contribute to the constructors' point tally and won't be able to do so in Abu Dhabi either, as is he still recovering from a broken arm. Thanks to the second-place result of Pablo Quintanilla (30 points) and the fifth place of Joan Barreda (17 points), Monster Energy Honda leads the constructors' classification, two points ahead of GasGas. The third-place result in Jeddah of the reigning world champion, Matthias Walkner, with 24 points, sees the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team in third place in the constructors' classification (36 points).

In trouble on the Dakar after Skyler Howes crashed out on stage 5 and Luciano Benavides finished 13th, the Husqvarna Factory Racing team is 6th in the manufacturers' standings and will have to get back on track without delay.

Rui Gonçalves at Sherco will leave it to Lorenzo Santolino to defend the honour of the French brand, which is 4th in the constructors' classification (14 points). The Spaniard will have to watch his back and the Hero Motorsports clan. The Indian brand, 5th in the constructors' standings with 13 points, is adopting the opposite policy. Joaquim Rodrigues will be joined by Franco Caimi, who was injured in testing while preparing for Abu Dhabi last year, and Ross Branch, the Yamaha defector. All the factory riders and the valiant privateer Martin Michek, present at the Dakar in RallyGP, have entered round two of the championship.

In Rally2, Mason Klein, a bona fide revelation in addition to being the best "rookie" of the 2022 Dakar, will continue his apprenticeship with the BAS World KTM Racing team. The American dominates the category with the 38 points tallied in Jeddah. In the absence of Camille Chapelière, the opportunity becomes very good for the 3rd of the provisional ranking Romain Dumontier (24 points), who aims for a podium at the end of the season. Bradley Cox, currently fifth (17 points), will share the tent with Klein and hopes to move into the top three in Rally2 before the second half of the season.

7th with 14 points, Konrad Dabrowski (Duust Rally) has decided, like Bradley Cox, to follow in his father's footsteps and to give himself the means to do so this season. The Pole finished 5th overall in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge four months ago amongst the officials and is training regularly in Dubai. Charan Moore (HT Rally Raid), 14th with 3 points, will be one to watch. The South African, who has given himself three years to become an official driver, did more than just learn the ropes on his first Dakar by finishing 4th in the Original by Motul behind an experienced podium finisher in Jeddah. Paolo Lucci (Solarys Racing) will be keen to make up for his Dakar during which his regular Top 25 performances didn't translate into a final classification.

The programme

On 6 March, after the administrative and technical scrutineering at the Yas Marina circuit in the capital of Abu Dhabi followed by the qualifying stage, the W2RC caravan will set off for five stages through the Al Dhafra region in the desert of the Empty Quarter. Nearly 2,000 kilometres of special stages ranging from 217km to 318km with just over 500km of road sections await the competitors.