Abu Dhabi, UAE
While men dominate cross country rallying, Anastasiya Nifontova has proved herself to be as fearless any of the sport’s top riders and drivers assembled at Yas Marina Circuit today to prepare for World Championship duty.
The Russian mother of two is the sole woman competitor in the bikes and quads category at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Powered by Nissan, just weeks after creating history in the gruelling Dakar Rally in Peru.
Nifontova became the first woman ever to finish the event completely unassisted. Not only did she safely negotiate a route totalling 3,100 miles in length, with nearly 1,900 miles of timed stages, she had no mechanical help or support of any kind.
The achievements of the 2015 womens’ FIM Cross-Country Rally world champion have made her a role model for women in motor sport, and she is one of five female competitors overall contesting the Desert Challenge.
The others are Andrea Peterhansel, wife and co-driver of five-times cars winner Stéphane Peterhansel, Italian Camelia Liparoti and her Spanish co-driver Rosa Romero in a Yamaha buggy and Egyptian Yara Shalaby driving a Nissan Pathfinder.
After a mechanical nightmare in the 2014 Desert Challenge, Anastasiya was placed 30th out of 45 finishers 12 months later, and she hopes for much better this time with the support of husband Anton Gavrilov, one mechanic and a 4WD assistance car.
She still faces another big test, however, in an event which has attracted 41 riders for the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship. On Sunday morning the rally leaves Abu Dhabi for five difficult desert stages of 261km, 222km, 297km, 286km, and finally 214.47km in a route totalling 2,006.73km in length.
Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club for the UAE, the rally organisers, and FIA Vice President for Sport, said: “Anastasiya has shown what a brave and fearless competitor she is and we’re very pleased to welcome her back to Abu Dhabi. The sport needs to attract more women competitors, and hopefully her achievements can help.”
Taking place under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in Al Dafrah Region, the Desert Challenge is supported Abu Dhabi Aviation, Abu Dhabi Police, ADNOC, Al Ain Water, Al Dhafra Region Ruler’s Representative Court, National Ambulance, Nissan, United Arab Emirates Armed Forces and Yas Marina Circuit.
It’s a major test even for the best of the male riders from the professional factory teams, including Sam Sunderland, winner of both the Desert Challenge and Dakar Rally bikes crowns in 2017.
“The Desert Challenge is very demanding,” says Anastasiya, as the first batch of bikes, quads, cars and buggies went through scrutineering in the South Grand Stand support pits today to guarantee their place in tomorrow’s 7.30pm ceremonial start.
“Riding in the big dunes needs maximum concentration,” she said. “High temperatures also add problems. Riders have to be very careful with hydration of their body and drink regularly. This race is dangerous and nice at the same time.”
Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge powered by Nissan, rally itinerary:
30 March: Ceremonial start at Yas Marina Circuit – 7.30pm
31 March: Yas Marina Circuit Stage 1 (261.97km) – starting 9am
1 April: Al Ain Water Stage 2 (222.80km) – starting 6.00am
2 April: Nissan Stage 3 (297.97km) – starting 6.15am
3 April: ADNOC Stage 4 (286.10km) – starting 6.00am
4 April: Abu Dhabi Aviation Stage 5 (214.47km) – starting 6.25am