The 2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, Round 2 of 5 for the World Rally-Raid Championship, begins Sunday with a Prologue followed by five stages ending on 3 March that will take competitors from Al Dhannah City to the titular destination of Abu Dhabi. 1,286 kilometres of Special Stages will be available with 1,913 km in total including liaison sections; by comparison, the 2022 race length was 1,933 km. The rally was originally slated to be longer at 2,168 km before being amended on Saturday.
The Prologue on Sunday is 263 km total but only seven kilometres will be a Special Stage, with the rest being travel from the bivouac in Abu Dhab, particularly the ADNOC (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company) Business Center, to Al Dhannah. In a sense, it serves as a warm-up leg and does not count towards the final classification.
Monday, 27 February will see the first leg begin in Ghayāthī before travelling 249 kilometres through Tal Mor’eb and ending in Qasr Al Sarab.
Qasr Al Sarab, a desert resort, will serve as the bivouac and effective central hub for the rally as Stages #2 through #4 are all loops starting and ending there. The second and third legs will serve as marathon stages for the FIM classes, meaning they cannot receive help from their teams in the event of vehicle trouble and must make repairs themselves or by leaning on their peers.
Stage #4 will be the longest as the only day to break the 300-km mark at 308. By comparison, Stages #2 and #3 are 257 and 266 km, respectively.
The fifth and final day on 3 March takes the field back to Abu Dhabi with a 206-km run.
As the race name suggests, the ADDC will be almost exclusively in desert environment though the route’s geology varies by stage. For example, Stage #4 is expected to heavily feature sharp climbs and ridges while the fifth is flatter to promote top speed.
“This is my favorite rally: just desert with sand, more sand and monumental sand dunes,” commented Annie Seel, who is competing in T3 alongside Annett Fischer.
Stéphane Peterhansel (FIA) and Sam Sunderland (FIM) won the ADDC in 2022, though neither will defend their victories as Peterhansel is not entered while Sunderland broke his ankle during final testing on Friday.
Ninety-four entries, a blend of W2RC and non-championship competitors, will kick off the race on Sunday. Forty-eight come from FIA classes while forty-six are on Bikes or Quads.