Team Saluki History - 2005 Back | History Index | Forward

The 2005 Desert Challenge was filled with extreme highs and lows for the whole team. From our highest ever placing in the race on Day 2, to a series of problems, both minor and major, on the following days. Once again we were accompanied throughout the race by journalist Bob Morrison, whose story appears below.

Words 2006 by

Mark and Tim prepare to set off on Day 1Mark Powell and Tim Ansell, the Dubai-based Brits who race as Team Saluki, started the 2005 UAE Desert Challenge seeded eighth in their near twenty year old former British Army One-Ten. Run in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with the bulk of the action being in the UAE sector of the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Desert, this final round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies is one of the most gruelling rallies on the planet, and is used by many as a warm-up for the Dakar.

Now in its fifteenth year, the UAE Desert Challenge started out as a one-day, four-wheel drive rally organised by a group of motorsport enthusiasts in the Emirates, but within just two years it had been accepted into the FIA World Cup, and it has never looked back. First winners of the Challenge were Mohammed Mattar and Hassan Ali bin Shahdoor in a Land Rover One-Ten, and they repeated the feat in 1992, but that would be the last time that a Land Rover took the top podium place, as the big factory teams moved in for the 1993 race. Regrettably, Solihull has never paid much attention to off-road motorsport, preferring instead to first support the now politically incorrect Camel Trophy, and more recently to run the more politically correct G4 Challenge. Of course the bog standard Defender is no racing thoroughbred, but if you take away the outer panels of the factory-supported Mitsubishis, Volkswagens, and Nissans, under the skin they are anything but standard.

My 2005 Desert Challenge started off with a Media Briefing in the Dubai International Marine Club, before which I had picked up the door numbers for my support vehicles - a pair of 110 Defenders, of which you will hear more next month. Following the briefing, I was taken on a media boat trip of the prestige Dubai Waterfront and Palm Islands residential development, organised by one of the major sponsors of the Challenge, so unfortunately I missed out on Scrutineering. This was held inside the brand new Ibn Battuta shopping mall, and I'm told by the guys that it was just a tad surreal watching race-prepared vehicles driving literally through shops. In my absence, the Saluki was granted a clean bill of health, so everything was set for the Prologue.

The 2005 UAE Desert Challenge commenced properly on Wednesday 9th November with the Competitor's Briefing, which LRM attended as part of the Team Saluki crew. This rag-tag volunteer army of ex-pat Brits and tourists from Scotland, Northern Ireland, Holland and England, may not have had the big bucks of the international car giants behind them, but resplendent in team T-shirts and brimming with enthusiasm, they once again stood out from the crowd. The only slight downer on the day was that this year there was no Land Rover oval on the sleeves, nor indeed on the secondary sponsors panel on the back, supposedly as the company could not be persuaded to support a Defender because all their efforts were being directed at Range Rover Sport publicity . Fortunately for Mark and Tim, as competing in even just one heat of the FIA World Championship is mega-expensive, Mountain Dew (a Pepsi-Cola soft drink) stepped in as primary sponsors, so it was their swirling green oval that adorned the Land Rover and the sleeves of our shirts. The other team sponsors this year were BRITPART, who provided parts back-up, plus UPS, Castrol, GAC, Serck Services and Al Thika Packaging.

Team Saluki The first leg of the Challenge was the Prologue, held late in the Wednesday afternoon outside Ibn Battuta Mall on a specially constructed course in front of viewing stands. This event was used to sort out positions for the official race start, and it also gave Dubai residents the chance to see the vehicles in action before they headed off down the coast to Abu Dhabi. As the motos and quads competed first, with the autos and trucks following on in reverse seeding order, the sun was low on the horizon by the time that the Saluki growled away from the start in position eight, but at least now the race was on. As was to be expected of a predominantly flat and hard course that saloon-based cars would not have been unduly worried by, first and third seeds Stephane Peterhansel and Joan Roma finished in the top two positions in their Mitsubishi Evos, with only a second separating them. Next fastest were two of the Emirati-crewed and sponsored Team Liberty Chevrolets, which both finished the course nine seconds slower than the leader. Derrick Edmondson, in a Range Rover based, T1/2 Class, Rally-Raid Warrior pulled off tenth place, just thirteen seconds behind Stephane, and Dave Mabbs in his T1/1 Defender managed twelfth, barely a second later. The Saluki, which much prefers the dunes to flat out racing, finished five seconds behind Mabbsy to land sixteenth place for the start, midway down the field. We will take a look at how Derrick and Dave, plus their respective co-drivers Mike and Mario, in a little more depth next month, but for now we will focus on the Saluki.

The official race start took place in the grounds of the Emirates Palace Hotel in Dubai on the Thursday morning after a road liaison section down from Dubai. Once clear of the podium, the teams headed off by road to the start of Special Stage One (SS1) in the desert to the south of Abu Dhabi City. From here, their route took them a further hundred and fifty or so kilometres southwards to the event bivouac site in the lee of Mureeb Hill, well to the south of the Liwa Oasis. The Saluki started off in sixteenth place, but by the time the stage was over it appeared that they were running in fifth. Ahead of them were Stephane Peterhansel, winner of the 2002 and 2003 challenges, in his Mitsubishi Evo, Jose Luis Monterde in his BMW X5, Joan Roma in the second factory-supported Evo, and Yahya Alhelei in the first of the three Team Liberty Chevrolets. Mark had brought the Defender in some 47 minutes behind the leader, but he was merely just over two minutes slower than the first Team Liberty Chevrolet, and a similar time ahead of the second. This was confirmed by Rally Control late on the Thursday evening, and things were looking good.

Starting the second leg in fifth place put Mark and Tim in great frame of mind, though for the support team the Thursday night had been a long one, as they battled to sort out a niggling brake system problem. The grease monkeys go no sleep that night; nor, for that matter, did yours truly get much as Ard monotonously called out up-down-up-down-up-down… as Dave repeatedly pressed the Saluki's brake pedal, just a couple of yards from the sleeping tent.

Overall length of SS2 was 134 kilometres and the Saluki crossed the finish line in official tenth place, however their overall placing was still fifth. There then followed a 48 kilometre Road Section before the start of the 210 kilometre SS3, taking the rally back to the desert bivouac at Mureeb. The Saluki's final time for this section put them in sixth place for the stage, and when results bearing the Clerk of the Course's signature were posted on the notice board outside Rally Control at 21:45, the guys had crept up to a superb fourth place overall. By now, everything seemed to have settled down nicely and, after carrying out routine maintenance. the service team actually got some sleep for the first time in about 45 hours.

On Saturday morning, everyone's spirits were high. Although two and a half hours behind race leader Stephane Peterhansel, Mark was just forty-five minutes behind third place Yahya Alhelei and less than an hour behind second place Jose Luis Monterde, so the Saluki was still in the running for a possible podium place, should somebody pick up major time penalties through losing their way mid-stage or through mechanical problems. The desert is, after all, a great leveller. As we watched the lads streak off up the long incline at the start of the gruelling 354 kilometre Special Stage 4, which according to the Road Book had an estimated AVERAGE speed of 95 km/hr over rough tracks, sabkha plains and dunes, we all had our fingers crossed. Then disaster struck!

Mark90 & Streaky set to work removing the gearboxCaz and I had not even made it twenty kilometres down the main road on our way to Passage Control 2, from where we were intending to strike out into the dunes to intercept the Saluki in the middle of nowhere, when the mobile phone rang. Paul, the team manager, broke the bad news that the Saluki had retired with gearbox trouble and was limping back to the stage start. Mark and Tim had made the sensible decision to retire when still within sight of civilisation, rather than ploughing on only to find themselves suffering catastrophic failure in the open desert, which could have resulted in a ten hour recovery operation for the support crew. We did an immediate about turn and linked up with the Saluki at the stage start, then trailed it back down to the bivouac area, while the support crew, at the time heading for the mid-stage service area, were recalled to work on the vehicle. Within minutes of its arrival, the lads were lifting the top of the gearbox for a preliminary inspection, finding a rogue sheared tooth in the process, as Tim headed off to Rally Control to check if the rules would allow them to restart after repairs. Unfortunately, the answer was no, and they had to accept maximum time penalties for the day.

Saturday was a bad day all round, as late into the night I received a phone call from my brother in France saying that my father had suffered a heart attack on arrival in America on holiday. A couple of days later, heart surgeons carried out a triple bypass on the Old Man, telling him that his heart was now hopefully good for probably another twenty-five years. That afternoon Streaky, Ard, Mark and Dave performed surgery on the Saluki, giving her a replacement gearbox and thoroughly checking over everything else mechanical on the vehicle, and that evening they were even able to get to bed relatively early.

Sunday was to be another gruelling single stage day, covering over 370 kilometres in total, with 290 of those being on SS5. Knowing that it was now impossible to get anywhere near the seventh place of 2004, Mark and Tim decided to simply enjoy their racing free from the pressures of the first few days. That does not mean they eased off, as I can testify having tracked them down, courtesy of Caz's superb desert driving skills, on remote parts of the course where they could not possibly have known that a photographer was lurking. Starting in eighteenth position, they finished SS5 in fifteenth, and this was reflected in their overall official position on the Sunday night.

Saluki - up and running on Day 4The fifth and final leg of the rally, on Monday 14th, saw a mix of three Road Sections and two Special Stages, totalling nearly 525 kilometres, to bring the competitors back from the heart of the Liwa desert to Dubai City for the podium finish. On SS6 the Saluki managed to finish in sixth place, only five minutes behind the X5 in third after 122km of desert driving. The 185 km long SS7, was not as favourable for the Land Rover, and the Saluki dropped back to twelfth on that stage, giving them an overall position at the end of the race of fifteenth. However, as only twenty out of thirty-three starters actually completed the gruelling 2,100 kilometre race, Team Saluki are still to be congratulated.

Looking back over that action-packed week, where two weekend off-road drivers, supported by a band of Land Rover loving volunteers from Europe and the Emirates, managed to get an old ex-military One-Ten snapping at the heels of factory-supported and well-funded professional drivers, one wonders what could be achieved if Mark and Tim had some real muscle behind them. If Lode Lane were to throw a bit of effort and money into the Range Rover Sport, in similar fashion to Mitsubishi, BMW, Mercedes, Nissan and Volkswagen support their off-road vehicles, and if a large corporate sponsor was to pick up on this, there is little reason why the green oval should not be on the Desert Challenge podium once again. Come to think of it, doesn't a certain airline entrepreneur love Range Rovers, and aren't his airline now flying to Dubai? Are you reading this by any chance Mr. Branson?

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