The 2018 edition of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge was one of the most successful for Saluki Motorsport, claiming a double podium finish in class after the grueling six-day event against the best cross-country competitors from around the globe.

Having won the T1.3 class in the 2018 Dubai International Baja earlier in the month, Saluki Motorsport again lined up with Georgy Gomshiashvili and Nikita Abramov (#324) with team owner Mark Powell navigating for Matt Telling (#327).

The prologue was held on the iconic Yas Marina Circuit, with all 112 competitors from 28 countries tackling the tarmac which hosts the annual Formula 1 grand finale. The spectator-friendly stage was held on Saturday, March 24 and allowed fans to get a good look at their heroes and favourite race cars ahead of five stages in the desert.

“The strategy is to be in the middle of the pack in the prologue,” said Mark Powell. “This way the tracks are well defined in the sand by the time the race leaders start and allows you to ease into the event. We are fairly confident going into Desert Challenge after the results at Baja, but you can never test a car properly unless you have entered a race. We had a few repairs to make after Baja which caused additional pressure that we didn’t need, but to have two great looking buggies ready in time gives us some determination to get them to the finish.”

Qualifying 25th (#324) and 27th (#327) outright, more than 1,300 km of desert racing await the team across the Empty Quarter of the UAE between March 25 and 29, 2018.

READ TEAM OWNER MARK POWELL’S DIARY OF THE ADDC BELOW:

STAGE 1. YAS MARINA CIRCUIT
Length: 276.01km
Stage & Overall Results in Class: 4th (#324) and 5th (#327)

The first stage is up there with some of the longest of the event, which really makes you sit up and drive your best from day one because the desert can be so unforgiving.

I decided to jump into the navigator’s seat with Matt for the event, because this was a great opportunity to see how the cars that we had just built performed in competition. But also, bearing in mind that this was Matt’s first ever attempt at desert driving in Liwa – which can be massively daunting for a first-timer – I thought it would be beneficial to him to impart some of my 20 years of experience racing in Liwa to help him get through.

There were dramas for Georgy and Nikita’s buggy, bringing the #324 home 4th in class. Matt and myself broke a CV cage on the rear wheel and we spent a number of hours in the desert replacing it. But we made the necessary repairs and drove out of the desert, which thankfully allowed us to start the next day.

STAGE 2. NISSAN
Length: 287.9km
Stage Result in Class: 3rd (#327) and 5th (#324)
Overall Classification in Class: 4th (#324) and 5th (#327)

Good gains were made by our #327 team, however, Georgy hit a sand dune and broke a rose joint on the front steering. This necessitated a desert repair and recovery by our very hardworking Saluki team.

The long days and even longer nights making repairs become regular as the team works whatever hours are needed to have the cars prepared for early starts each day. CV joints were examined, re-greased or replaced, everyone was generally happy with the cars especially as they were new builds. But the team is only carrying out general maintenance each day as opposed to major rebuilds. We’re not even halfway through yet!

STAGE 3. AL AIN WATER
Length: 281.4km
Stage Result in Class: 3rd (#324) and 4th (#327)
Overall Classification in Class: 3rd (#324) and 4th (#327) 

Georgy was upbeat and glad that the team had sorted his buggy #324 overnight, allowing he and Nikita to start Stage 3. They had another great day despite getting stuck, but were unfortunately not allowed to continue to the second half as time was running out and the passage controls were closing.

Having two cars makes things slightly more difficult when it comes to planning crew and the overall schedule of the event. One car may come in early and the other car may have to be recovered from the desert – but both cars need to start the following day and if the team needs to be up until the early hours, so be it. But that is what a team is all about.

Cross-country rallying can change your aspirations and results in a split second… one minute you’re on top of the world, the next minute you’re last and stuck in the middle of nowhere waiting for recovery! But we’re now one foot onto the podium in class so we just need to maintain our pace and finish the final two stages to be in with a chance.

STAGE 4. ADNOC
Length: 244.5km
Stage Result in Class: 2nd (#327) and 3rd (#324)
Overall Classification in Class: 2nd (#324) and 4th (#327)

Much bigger improvements today. Matt and I had a chat about the previous day and together we started to find a rhythm – it was a good penultimate stage, with Matt (being a novice) beginning to understand what desert driving was all about and winding the car up with confidence. You can’t place too much expectation on drivers at their first Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, but as long as you keep finding more gains and they get through their first major endurance race, then they’ll be even better come the next one.

Georgy and Nikita had a great run and were happy with their progress. In fact, we both finished relatively early and spirits were high considering how challenging the previous stages had been. But we can’t be over confident going into the last day… there is still more than 200 km to run cleanly if we’re to make the finish line.

STAGE 5. ABU DHABI AVIATION
Length: 218.6km
Stage Result in Class: 2nd (#327) and 3rd (#324)
Final Overall Classification in Class: 2nd (#324) and 3rd (#327)

After four days of grueling desert racing, there were about half the field left by the final day which is quite telling about the event. You look at the initial start list and compare vehicles and drivers, and you do wonder early on whether you have a good chance. Then when the leaders start dropping out, all sorts of possibilities open up!

Georgy and Nikita had issues with tyres and had already used their two spares and had a third one deflating, but despite this, they nursed the car over the podium! The result actually put them into the lead of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies 2WD Trophy). Which is just incredible!

But to also have finished the event with two brand new cars on the podium was a fantastic result for the whole team. Overall, we had a great time and it was another great learning opportunity. A few ideas for minor improvements to the cars but thankfully not a great deal! Which is a win in itself.

Competing in these events is very much a teamwork affair and you never really hear about the countess hours, sleep deprivation and the broken finger nails, so this is a big shout out to Robbie Haines, Lerric Nabong and Robbie Clarkson who spend the entire week in the desert. But not let’s forget Martin Moore who was based at Saluki Motorsport’s Headquarters in Dubai who provided the additional support when needed.

Well done one and all!!!