abu dhabi desert challenge Sam Sunderland started 1200

Photo Credit: Cristiano Barni

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge saw a host of local rider success with Sam Sunderland leading them home with victory.

The 2017 FIM Cross Country Rally World Championship season began last week with the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, and for many riders it was their first time riding a bike in anger since January’s Dakar Rally.

One such rider was UAE based Briton Sam Sunderland, who first made a name for himself during the 2011 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge when, riding as a privateer for the KTM Dubai Dealer Team, he impressed the factory teams by winning several stages, before suffering with mechanical problems.

That performance and speed earned him a contract with the Honda Factory Rally Team, before he moved to the marque Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team at the start of 2014. Despite always setting consistently fast times in Abu Dhabi, Sunderland has had mixed luck at the event, and in the past either retired or finished runner up. However, this year he put those demons to rest with a determined and measured victory.

“It is really cool to take the win in Abu Dhabi, as this is where I first started rallying, and living in Dubai, I consider this my home race”, said Sunderland.

“Many other times I’ve come close, but the win always somehow slipped away from me. This win also means a lot coming off the back of Dakar, as there was huge pressure on me to follow it up with another win. It was not easy, as I’ve had to travel a lot for media commitments following Dakar, so I’ve had less time to train, and the rally this year was tougher too, as the sand was unnaturally soft and the temperatures on the first two days were approaching fifty degrees.”


abu dhabi desert challenge Emirati rider Mohammed Al Balooshi who finished in 7th place overall 1200

Photo Credit: Cristiano Barni

“The team and I had a strategy for Abu Dhabi and everything fell into place this year, so I’m naturally delighted! However, there is no chance to rest, as I’ve had a quick trip to Lebanon for a KTM event and then it’s straight to Qatar for the next round. 

“The world championship win would be nice but my main focus remains to be Dakar 2018, and to go there with the number 1 on my back is a challenge that I relish!” Sunderland concluded.

Following Sunderland on the podium this year were Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing Team rider Pablo Quintanilla from Chile, wearing the number one plate this year as defending world champion, and Sunderland’s Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Teammate Mathias Walkner from Austria, now fully fit again after the injuries he suffered on the 2016 Dakar kept him on the sidelines for the rest of last season.


abu dhabi desert challenge Ulsterman David McBride Veterans Trophy

Photo Credit: Cristiano Barni

In the supporting classes, young Kuwaiti rider continues to make a name for himself in the quad world by following up his debut international win the previous month at the Dubai International Baja, the opening round of the 2017 FIM Bajas World Cup, by taking maximum points in the quads in Abu Dhabi. At just 23 years old, he is definitely a name for the future and surely a future quad World Champion.

Elsewhere, Dubai based Ulsterman David McBride placed first in the FIM Veteran’s Trophy for the local Vendetta Racing Team. McBride, who holds the record for motorcycle appearances in the Desert Challenge will now go to the next round in Qatar, as well as hopefully the final round in Morocco as he challenges for the veteran’s title.

Polish rider Adam Tomiczek finished in ninth position overall to be crowned top Junior rider for the Orlen team, while Italian Camelia Liparoti finished as first lady.

The next round of both the FIM Cross Country Rally World Championship and FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies takes place at the Qatar Cross Country Rally from the 17th to the 22nd April 2017.


Words: Stuart Murrary
FIM Cross Country Rally World Championship – ADDC Overall Results






Time/Diff From 1st


S. Sunderland (GBR)

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team

KTM 450 FR




P. Quintanilla (CHI)

Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing Team

Husqvarna 450 FR




M. Walkner (AUT)

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team

KTM 450 FR




A. Tomiczek (POL)

Orlen Team

KTM 450 RR




D. McBride (GBR)

Vendetta Racing

KTM 450 RR




F. Al Musallam (KUW)

Yamaha Raptor 700




C. Liparoti (ITA)

Yamaha Raptor 700