Sam Sunderland, Luciano Benavides and Andrew Short will soon head to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates to contest round one of the 2019 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship – a five-stage event held in the dunes to the south of the UAE’s capital city.

Fully rested following January’s gruelling 10-day Dakar Rally, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing will continue their 2019 race program with a two-rider team competing in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. The event, now in its 29th edition, marks the start of this year’s world championship. Faced with five days of racing, totalling over 2,000 kilometres, riders and their machines will be tested to their limits in the dunes of the Liwa Desert.

Sam Sunderland: “It’s going to be tough and we’ll have plenty of competition.”

Following on from his Dakar podium success, Sam Sunderland has kept himself busy in the months leading up to the opening round of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship. As well as training onboard his KTM 450 RALLY, the Brit has also raced a variety of off-road events around the globe, including enduro and supercross.

Sam Sunderland: “I always look forward to Abu Dhabi, it’s somewhat of a home race for me. I feel confident in the dunes there and have had some success in the race before with a win in 2017. It’s going to be tough and we’ll have plenty of competition. Unfortunately, some of my teammates won’t be there as they are recovering from injury after Dakar, but it’s good to see them on the mend. Training went well in Morocco recently and it’s great to have the team working together again. My plan for the race is do my best for the team and myself, hopefully come away with a good result, and get the championship off to the perfect start.”

Luciano Benavides: “My goal for the season is to be near the top of both the junior world championship and the overall.”

The team’s junior member, Luciano Benavides, went from strength-to-strength at the 2019 Dakar Rally, finishing in a strong eighth place overall in only his second year at the event. Benavides put in an impressive performance over the course of the race, making few mistakes and steadily improving his pace as the race progressed. Riding in the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team for 2019, the young Argentinian is looking forward to the forthcoming season.

Luciano Benavides: “I’m feeling really good right now, I took three weeks off after Dakar to relax and spend time with friends and family but it was soon time to start riding again. The recent test in Morocco went really well, it was useful for me to get back up to speed on the bike and improve my feeling in the desert. I hope my performance in Abu Dhabi will be like my second week at the Dakar – I want to get closer to the top guys and believe I have the experience and confidence to do this now. My goal for the season is to be near the top of both the junior world championship and the overall.”

Andrew Short: “This will be my first time racing the Desert Challenge and I want to make the best out of this experience.”

Following their top-six results at the 2019 Dakar Rally, the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rally squad are looking forward to a strong season of international rally competition. Enjoying a productive week of testing and training in the dunes of Morocco during March, Andrew Short heads to the UAE knowing he can battle for a solid overall result at the 2019 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

Andrew Short: “Everything has been going pretty well for me and I’m looking forward to the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge at the end of the month. A few weeks back we had a test in Morocco, and it went pretty well. It was good to ride my rally bike in desert conditions again after the Dakar. Together with the team we tried some new suspension components and made some good overall improvements with the bike. I think these last few adjustments will make a big difference for the upcoming races and I’m looking forward to trying them out in race conditions. This will be my first time racing the Desert Challenge and I want to make the best out of this experience. It is a different kind of event and I know that speed will be a crucial factor at this race. For me it will be interesting to learn and I’m also excited to be with the team preparing for the next big challenges. It’s been a busy time for me racing the WORCS series in the States and also preparing for the rallies, but my head is in a good place and I want to continue learning and improving.”

Working hard to return to full fitness following surgery on his left tibia, Pablo Quintanilla has already entered the final part of his long rehabilitation process. Highly motivated to resume training aboard his Husqvarna machine, the two-time Cross-Country Rallies World Champion aims to make a return to competitive action later on during the 2019 series.

Featuring a total of five stages, the 2019 edition of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge takes place on March 31 to April 4 in the dunes of the United Arab Emirates.

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photos (c) Marcin Kin & Sebas Romero & Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing