World Rally-Raid (W2RC) round two heads just down the road from Dakar to the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge with Ross Branch starting as favourite but a serious lack of factory teams and just three GP riders contesting.

Ross Branch will start as odds-on favourite to win this week’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, round two of the World Rally-Raid Championship, not just because of his stellar performance in finishing second at the 2024 Dakar Rally, but chiefly because all his main rivals aren’t even racing.

After a fairly bumper 2023 W2RC season it seems the distractions, and more likely a mixture of the race organisation issues and prevalence for riders to injury themselves, has created a vacuum in the ’24 series. (See entry list below).

The rally-raid world championship usually attracts one or two of the main factory riders from KTM, reigning champions Husqvarna, GASGAS and the dominant Dakar winners, Honda. But not this year as just three Rally GP riders will line-up at the start of the ADDC for the prologue in ADNOC Oasis: Ross Branch on the factory Hero Motorsports 450 along with teammate Aaron Mare and private entrant, Mohammed Al Balooshi. Still, a finish for any GP class rider guarantees a podium, right?

Rally 2 challengers for the overall

The best of the rest includes a healthy entry of Rally 2 riders, some of which will pose a threat to Branch for the win. That includes Emirates-based South African sand dune specialist Michael Doherty, Motuls class winner at the ’24 Dakar, Tobias Ebster and the French duo of Jean-Loup Lepan and Konrad Dabrowski.

“Vying for victory in the Dakar, a goal I’d been chasing for such a long time, came as a huge relief.” Says Branch ahead of the ADDC. “I’m taking it one race at a time. The guys are really fast here, anything can happen in the dunes and it’s a tough race from A to Z. I need to keep my feet firmly on the ground to make it to the finish and score as many championship points as possible, but I’m going to give it my best shot.”

2024 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge schedule:

26 February: Prologue - ADNOC Oasis (Total: 19 km / Special: 5 km)

27 February: Stage 1 - Ruler's Representative Court in Al Dhafrah Region (Total: 374 km / Special: 248 km)

28 February: Stage 2 - ADNOC Distribution (Total: 327 km / Special: 239 km)

29 February: Stage 3 - Abu Dhabi Sports Council (Total: 414 km / Special: 251 km)

1 March: Stage 4 - Al Futtaim-Toyota (Total: 345 km / Special: 231 km)

2 March: Stage 5 - Abu Dhabi Aviation (Total: 423 km / Special: 205 km)

Follow the race live here:

2024 ADDC entry list:



Photo Credit: A.S.O. | DPPI | B. Roux