Qatar's Al-Attiyah extends lead in Desert Challenge
Al-Attiyah extends his lead on Day 2 of Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah is edging closer to his second victory in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge powered by Nissan, but Russia’s Vladimir Vasilyev is refusing to give up his pursuit of a third successive cars triumph in the event.
Partnered by French co-driver Mathieu Baumel in a Toyota Hilux, Al-Attiyah won Tuesday’s 280km Al-Ain Water Stage, his third stage win in a row, to extend his lead to 15min 19sec from Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov who climbed one place on the leg in their Mini All4Racing.
Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi and German co-driver Timo Gotschalk in another Mini slipped one place to third, and are another six minutes off the pace, although the nature of this demanding event means it would be wrong to discount any of the leading challengers with two days remaining.
Poland’s Jakub Przygonski, Finn Mikko Hirvonen and American Bryce Menzies in three other Minis completed the top six in the second round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies, as the previous day’s wind and rain was replaced by more typical desert weather.
While a succession of competitors became stuck in soft sand, it was a better day for the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi, who put some earlier misfortunes behind him and rose two places in his Abu Dhabi Racing Mini to finish the stage in seventh position.
And it was a spectacularly much better day in the bikes category for Portugal’s Helder Rodrigues who won the stage after mechanical problems 24 hours earlier saw him plunge from contention and required the sweep team to return him to the bivouac.
With the top three again riding virtually in tandem for much of the stage, Australian first leg winner Toby Price reclaimed the overall lead, although his advantage over KTM teammate, Dubai-based Sam Sunderland, is a slim 57sec, with Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla just 18sec further behind on his Husqvarna.
The UAE’s Mohammed Al-Balooshi maintained his fourth position despite a crash on the stage, with Spain’s Txomin Arana Cobeaga and talented lady rider Laia Sanz completing the top six.
Veteran Dubai-based challenger Dave McBride maintained his ninth position in the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship.
"It’s been another great day of desert rallying, and quite a contrast from Monday when we had some competitors saying they were affected by the rain and cold temperatures," said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, president of the Automobile and Touring Club, the rally organizers. "You have to be ready for anything in the Desert Challenge - that’s the beauty of the event."
Reaching the end of the Al-Ain Water stage, Al-Attiyah said: "It was a good day. I got into good rhythm early on. There are some sharp dunes but the Toyota worked really well, and the navigation was perfect.
Saudi Al-Rajhi, completing the leg with a smile on his face, said: "It was a good stage. I got stuck a bit once but it was fun."
Taking place under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the ruler’s representative in the Western region, the 26th Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is organized by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the national motor sport authority.
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