The UAE is famous one of the most extreme and prestigious cross-country rally races in the world: The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. Last month I had the pleasure of photographing this year’s winner in the Two-Wheel-Drive Petrol Class (and 6th overall): Mark Powell, the owner of Saluki Motorsport, a British-owned garage in Dubai. Rally racers are considered the best technical drivers in the world - and is it any wonder when you see them launching themselves off of mountainous dunes at speeds approaching 120 mph - and for days on end. I’m in awe of these racers. Really fantastic stuff. Photographed in the Rub’ Al Khali Desert outside of Abu Dhabi.
Above, dawn in the middle of the Rub’ Al Khali Desert near Dubai with Mark Powell. Who wasn’t present for this shoot was Mark’s co-driver. While ‘co-driver’ is a misnomer as co-drivers don’t actually drive the car, they are, unquestionably, equally responsible for the final success or failure of the race. Rally car racing is the only motorsport in which drivers race blind, going from Point A to Point B with no real idea of what’s in front of them. And that’s where co-drivers play a critical role. They are the navigators and the true eyes of the driver. Reading off a highly detailed set of directions called pace notes (which can be encyclopedic in size), the co-driver will tell the driver where to turn, when to turn, what to look out for and what’s ahead over the next dune. It is a highly complex, trusting dance between driver and co-driver. Using a crazy shorthand, which to the untrained ear sounds like gibberish, a co-driver can give his driver an enormous amount of information instantly - "100k left 2, 100k right 2, 2000 square left, 100k right 4, 50 caution jump into right 2 tightens, don’t cut, 100 oversquare right, 400 flat to crest into k left 4.” And that’s just ten seconds of instructions. Imagine having to do that for 8 hours straight?