The 33rd Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge has concluded. The event gathered global racing drivers to the emirate to showcase elite sport and the diversity of Abu Dhabi’s natural landscape across five stages of competition.

The 33rd Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, organised by Abu Dhabi Sports Council, gathered more than 130 global racing drivers to compete across five stages, covering a total distance of 1,179km, as part of the World Rally-Raid Championship. Nasser Al-Attiyah secured his fourth Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge (ADDC) win, while in the two-wheeled competition, Aaron Maré took his first Desert Challenge title, giving Hero Motorsports its first FIM World Rally Raid Championship (W2RC) round win. As the longest-standing event on the FIA and FIM rally raid calendars returned to Mezaira’a for the first time since 2002.

As a result, it’s all change in the World Rally-Raid Championship Ultimate rankings, with Guerlain Chicherit, Guillaume de Mevius and Lucas Moraes all abandoning their campaigns in an arduous Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. Abdulaziz Ahli won the Quads category for a fourth consecutive year, having dominated all the specials of the Desert Challenge except the Prologue.

The UAE National finished eighth in the FIM overall motorbike ranking, slotted between the Rally2 riders Sarath Mohan Mambra (SRG Motorsports) and Thomas Childs (Vendetta Racing UAE). Two-time world champion Al-Attiyah jumps from eighth in the World Rally-Raid Championship championship standings, after finishing in second place, with 67 points. This puts Al-Attiyah just nine points adrift of current leader, Carlos Sainz Snr. (Team Audi Sport). Al-Attiyah's fourth Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge title is also his maiden victory with his brand-new co-driver, Édouard Boulanger.

It is the Frenchman's second triumph in the race, following his success with Peterhansel in 2022. Martin Prokop, the runner-up in last year's Desert Challenge, took second in the stage. Seth Quintero is on his first T1+ podium in the World Rally-Raid Championship, and in only his second rally raid with Toyota Gazoo Racing the American took third in the stage, defending his runner-up spot in this year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. Winner of the 2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Yazeed Al Rajhi takes silver in the 33rd edition, as the Saudi finished fourth in the final stage to leap from 12th to fifth overall. In the bikes, the winner of the last day of racing was Ross Branch, who arguably came in as odds-on favourite to win Round Two of the 2024 World Rally-Raid Championship after a finishing in second place in the opening round.

The Botswanan could only finish fourth in the Desert Challenge. However, Branch’s points saw him rise to the top of the World Rally-Raid Championship, 12 points clear, while UAE resident and Desert Challenge Rally GP overall winner Aaron Maré climbs to third place in the standings thanks to his maiden Desert Challenge and World Rally-Raid Championship triumph – a first ever victory by a South African in the event and a first for the Indian make Hero. Cristina Gutiérrez, who had already claimed victories in the Prologue and Stage 3, again finished just ahead of Rokas Baciuška. Despite finishing second, the Can-Am Factory driver was unable to claw back enough time from his teammate Austin Jones, the new Desert Challenge Champion in the Challenger category.

Baciuška might have come up 4′38″ short, but this result was good enough to put him into the World Rally-Raid Championship lead. 2015 winner in the T2 class, Mansour Al Helei (RX-Sport), son of Desert Challenge participation record holder Yahye, clinched his second Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge title by taking the SSV race. The UAE National finished second in the same class last season. A 2′42″ separated him from Yasir Seaidan (MMP), third in the last Dakar. The duel between the local hero and his Saudi neighbour was one of the most thrilling of the week. In the Quads, Hani Alnoumesi finished second in the W2RC quad competition, behind Manuel Andújar (7240 Team/Dragon Rally Service), the Dakar winner. Second in the overall standings behind the Rally GP rider Aaron Maré, Konrad Dąbrowski (Duust Rally) took the win in Rally 2.

The Pole clinched the first victory of his career in the World Rally-Raid Championship, after a near-miss in the last Desafío Ruta 40, where he finished in second place. The Frenchman also seized the lead of the World Rally-Raid Championship Rally2 category by six points over his compatriot Romain Dumontier. The Czech Jan Brabec (Strojrent Racing) rounds out the podium of the race in the category, with Abdulla Lanjawi (SRG Motorsports) in fourth place.

In the World Rally-Raid Championship, Nasser Al-Attiyah achieved the best result of all the competitors in the world rally-raid championship. By winning the race, three stages and several places of honour, the two-time reigning world champion left Abu Dhabi with enough points to climb from eighth to second place overall - in the process giving Prodrive its first victory in the ADDC and the brand's third in World Rally-Raid Championship.

The final stage of this year’s event, the Abu Dhabi Aviation Stage 5, from Mezaira’a to Abu Dhabi, was fast and featured numerous challenging dunes, making it a true Desert Challenge stage. The Emirates Motorsport Organisation (EMSO) planned two bivouacs and a service park, with the capital, Abu Dhabi, again hosting the start and finish. Al Dhannah City was the host city in the Al Dhafra Region.

Khalid Bin Sulayem, the EMSO President, said: “The 33rd edition of this historic race went beyond everyone’s expectations for its intense competition, the astonishing array of desert driving skills shown by the competitors, the quality and dedication of my team, and a perfect underlying infrastructure in areas of the country that present genuine challenges. The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge works with many partners from the UAE and elsewhere including today’s stage sponsor Abu Dhabi Aviation and the Search and Rescue Centre, without whose expertise and vigilance we would not be able to run this race, and I wish to extend my sincerest gratitude for all their efforts on our behalf.”

Evolving the route to bring the prestigious event to both Al Dhannah and Mezaira’a represented a push for further development in these areas, bringing the racing action closer to the people while highlighting how these cities contribute to the region, people of the UAE, along with those visiting from abroad with a passion for rally-raid, can get a deeper insight into what goes on both during the stages and in between at the bivouac.

The Desert Challenge adheres to the highest safety standards thanks to the assistance and cooperation of the Abu Dhabi Ambulance Service and the Search and Rescue Centre, coordinated by Abu Dhabi Aviation. During this year’s event the helicopter was called out several times to attend to incidents and managed to get there in a world-class response time, taking an average of 12 minutes from the initial call to the helicopter, and medical crew arriving at the scene. This makes the SAR Centre, one of the world’s fastest, an average two minutes quicker than London and one minute faster than New York.

The in-house Abu Desert Challenge medical team, alongside the professionalism and expertise of the National Ambulance team, three Search and Rescue Center helicopters positioned at strategic points on each stage, and software to coordinate where the vehicles and ambulances are taking patients and get them back into a position of readiness as soon as possible.

His Excellency Nadir Al Hammadi, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Aviation, said: “Being a partner with EMSO for the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is very important to us, because we get to show a different side of our strengths and abilities. Contrary to our everyday mission overseeing aviation safety, in the context of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, we are an essential part of the amazing safety infrastructure of a very tough race in a truly extreme and unforgiving environment. That’s something that we believe thoroughly validates our role and our partnership with EMSO.”

The next round of the W2RC Rally-Raid World Championship will take place in Portugal from April 2-7 2024. The BP Ultimate Rally-Raid will take place in Portugal and Spain.

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge was held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative Court in Al Dhafra Region, with the support of this year’s Energy partner ADNOC Distribution; Automotive partner Al-Futtaim Toyota; Abu Dhabi Aviation; SAR Center; Al Ain Water; Governmental support from the Ministry of Defence & UAE Armed Forces, Abu Dhabi Police, Civil Defence, Abu Dhabi Distribution Co, Al Dhafra Region Municipality, and media partner Abu Dhabi Sports TV.