FIM Rally World Championship begins this weekend in Abu Dhabi – who’s favourite for the 2019 title?

Wide open world title chase for the 2019 Cross-Country Rallies World Championship as season gets underway at Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. 


The 2019 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship begins this weekend with the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge based from the spectacular F1 Yas Marina Circuit.

Ricky Brabec made a successful start to his post-Dakar campaign with a victory in the United States at the Sonora Rally last week. The Honda rider took a comfortable win in the largest dunes in North America – part of Brabec’s training ground. 

Speaking about the Sonora win, Brabec said: “This rally was the first of the year for me so I was excited to just be able to ride the big bike again with some navigation. 

“This desert to me is like home and very close from my home town so it makes it easy to show up with a small crew to race and as well to train. 

“Looking forward to the rest of the year racing and training; [I’m] hungry for more and to top it off Dakar 2020 will be in a good way, I believe. We must stay strong in the fight.”

There’s nothing like competition to get yourself race fit and Brabec is looking good heading to the Middle Eastern desert. 


Honda Rally Brabec Sonora 560


Who's got this?

Does Brabec start the 2019 Rally season as favourite? After his storming ride in Dakar which ultimately ended in his HRC CRF450 engine failing while leading the rally, Brabec has continued the momentum and will surely have the motivation.

Brabec will be joined by Monster Energy Honda Team factory team-mates Joan Barreda and José Ignacio Cornejo Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge but not Kevin Benavides after he suffered a training crash.


sam.sunderland Benavides Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 560


Sunderland fronts depleted KTM Rally Team

Sam Sunderland stands with the other Benavides brother, Luciano, as the only two riders competing for the KTM Rally team in the opening round of the championship. 

Following his Dakar podium success, Sunderland had a busy ‘off-season’ training onboard his KTM 450 RALLY bike but also mixing enduro and supercross events. The team has also been out in the Morocco desert training ahead of the Abu Dhabi race.

“I always look forward to Abu Dhabi, it’s somewhat of a home race for me.” Says Sunderland.

“I feel confident in the dunes there and have had some success in the race before with a win in 2017. It’s going to be tough and we’ll have plenty of competition. Unfortunately, some of my team-mates won’t be there as they are recovering from injury after Dakar, but it’s good to see them on the mend.”


Andrew Short Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing 560


Don't rule out Shorty

Andrew Short will stand alone as the sole Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Rally team rider in Abu Dhabi. Like Brabec, Short has been mixing domestic cross-country racing in the USA with training for the Rally world series.

His team-mate and two-time Cross-Country Rallies World Champ, Pablo Quintanilla is still in recovery after his Dakar crash and injury to his left leg and will not race this week.  

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is based from the spectacular Yas Marina Circuit heading out and returning through the Liwa desert and around 2000 kilometres of desert and dunes.


Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge schedule:

March 31 Stage 1 Yas Marina Circuit 329.06km

April 1 Stage 2  Al Ain Water 434.19km

April 2 Stage 3  Nissan 520.66km

April 3 Stage 4  ADNOC 351.96km

April 4 Stage 5  Abu Dhabi Aviation 214.47km


2019 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship:

  1. 30th March to 4th AprilAbu Dhabi Desert Challenge United Arab Emirates
  2. 6th to 16th JulySilk Way Rally Russia/Mongolia/China
  3. 1th to 7th September Atacama Rally Chile
  4. 3th to 9th October Morocco Rally Morocco
Photo Credit: Justin Coffey/Marcin Kin
Byline jp ISDE 2018 Enduro21
Jon Pearson
Enduro21 Editor and Bike Tester