Sam Sunderland returns to competition for the final round of Emirates Desert Championship…

The final round of the 2015-16 Emirates Desert Championship takes place in Dubai on Friday 4th March 2016, and the provisional entry list includes one notable addition.

Sam Sunderland will make his return to competitive racing after suffering an injury on the Merzouga Rally in October 2015, which ultimately ruled him out of the 2016 Dakar Rally.

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“Breaking my leg in Merzouga was such a disappointment as I was on high after taking my first FIM World Championship win in Morocco the previous week,” told Dubai based Sundelrand. 

“I worked really hard to get myself back in time for Dakar, and although I feel I could have taken part, I wouldn’t have been competitive if I wasn’t 100% fit. In the end, the risk wasn’t worth the reward, so I decided to get back to full fitness before racing again.

 “Being able to do the last round of our local baja series is a perfect comeback event for me, as it is like racing in my own backyard! These dunes are where I train each day, and I’m confident I can be competitive. The most important thing though is to gain more strength back in my leg and not make any mistake ahead of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in a months’ time.”

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Sunderland will not be the only rider hoping for a good result, as the overall championship and most of the individual classes are still up for grabs at the fifth and final round of the season. 

In the Overall Championship, and leading 450cc Class, South African Ross Runnalls of the Liberty Kawasaki Team holds the lead after winning the initial three rounds; however, a DNF in round 4 has allowed the KTM pair of Mohammed Jaffar and Mohammed Al Balooshi to close the gap significantly.

In the Over 450cc Class, veteran British rider Steve Blackney is the odds on favourite with three wins from four races so far, while in the Marathon Class Brit Sam Smith of the Rebel X Yamaha Team holds a small advantage over countryman Tom Childs going into the final round. 

In the Ladies Cup, 2013-14 Ladies Champion Vicky Northway racing a Honda TRX 700 Quad currently holds a 3 point lead over 2014-15 Ladies Champion Sune Schaffler.

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The Quad Class has proved to be one of the most interesting so far this season with four different riders having taken victories in the opening four rounds. The championship fight is ultimately between three of those riders with Emirati Mansoor Al Suwaidi holding the lead by two points from Saudi Abdulmajeed Al Khulaifi. However, currently one point further back in third place in the vastly experienced Emirati Mohammed Al Shamsi and he will be eager to regain the title he last held two seasons ago.

Finally, fighting for the title in the Masters Class for those aged over 40 is a name that may be more familiar to fans of Special Stage Rallying than Motorcycle Racing. Currently leading the class before the final round is former WRC driver and twice Finnish Rally Champion Janne Tuohino, a resident of the UAE for several years. Racing for the SRG Husqvarna team, he currently leads nearest rival David McBride by 4 points.

The Emirates Desert Championship is the UAE’s national baja championship for cars, buggies, motorcycles and quads and takes place across five rounds throughout the winter months. 

The final event of the season takes place on Friday 4th March 2016. 

Four weeks after the end of the national season, many of the same competitors will be taking part in the 26th Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, the opening round of the 2016 FIA World Championship for Cross Country Rallies, held across the Emirate from the 31st March to the 7th April 2016.


Report: Stuart Murray

Photo: Wayne Gray & Naim Chidiac/Red Bull Content Pool