Leonid Novitskiy of Team X-Raid built a watertight lead at the end of day three, the Nissan Stage of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge leaving the door open for a close finish for the second and third positions in the Auto category. There was also little change in the Moto category as KTM’s Marco Coma continued to make steady progress in his bid for a fourth Desert Challenge victory in five years.
Novitskiy may have virtually sealed his dominant position just three days into the Challenge. Only a serious technical malfunction could possibly upset the first three positions in the cars section over the remaining two days. The Russian’s margin is allowing to ‘play safe’ in a terrain that is reported to be grueling and is testing the strength of many entries, although the weather was kinder that the first two days.
“Abu Dhabi’s Empty Quarter is not so easy to master, but my lead is allowing me to respect the terrain and navigate the sands very well,” Novitskiy said.
Meanwhile, Powell battled to maintain second place over Frenchman Laurent Rosso with barely eight minutes separating the two when they set out for the Nissan Stage. Unfortunately, a problem with the power steering pump pulley forced the Team Saluki Honda Buggy to retire from the day.
“I will be back out tomorrow,” Powell told reporters.
As the top three drivers continued to play a cat-and-mouse game, there was plenty of drama unfolding elsewhere in the Liwa desert.
The Powertec-run father-son combine of UAE’s Yahya Al Helei and Mansour recovered swiftly overnight from motion sickness which forced them out the previous day and began Day 3 on a fast note.
However, barely minutes away from the finish luck failed to hold as the father-son combine were once again forced to retire, this time with mechanical issues with their car.
“Day three was a good day for us considering the retirement the previous day. We were tailing Novitskiy’s BMW at most times, but this sport is such that nothing is until you cross the finish line.
“Obviously, we cannot mount a challenge for the top three positions because of the huge time penalty we incurred at the end of day two, but we are determined go out and complete the rest of the stages. This is a training exercise and I am here to learn from my father,” said 18-year old Mansour. Mansour is making his international rallying debut in this 20th edition of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
Meanwhile, misfortune continued to chase the British-French combine of David Mabbs and co-driver Xavier Caminda in their Toyota FJ Cruiser. The pair were forced to pull out of day three with the transmission problem discovered just before the start.
“Yesterday the team worked tirelessly to fix a transmission and differential problem so we were disappointed to discover another problem today. Let’s hope tomorrow is better” Mabbs said.
Qatar’s Mohammed Al Mannai and co-driver Adel Abdulla met with trouble when they landed heavily over a dune after PC3. The Desert Challenge Search & Rescue team, comprising of two helicopters and a ground sweep team, transported four doctors to the scene within 11 minutes. The pair were swiftly airlifted to Madinat Zayed Hospital, and early reports say both have sustained back and chest injuries and are in a stable condition.
In the Moto category, Coma continued to lead the pack, consolidating his overnight position by nearly seven minutes. The Spaniard will begin day four, the Qasr Al Sarb stage, almost 12 minutes ahead of challenger Sean Gaugain in the Open category.
The battle for supremacy in the 450 Category continues with Gaugain and David Casteu being separated by a mere minute and a half.
In the Quads Category, Sebastian Husseini is looking for a BMW-like finish by continuing to widen the margin between his closest contender Emirati rider Obaid Echtibi.
The two have traditionally shared a healthy rivalry in the category, most often swapping places over stages. Although at this point Husseini looks to be a sure winner, the eventual result is expected to be close.
Local female Quad rider, Vicky White is also doing extremely well riding alongside friend and training partner Colin Mercer, to maintain third place. For White, a top five finish will be seen as a great achievement given that the pair did not have time to train on the Suzuki LRT450 as an entry was only secured late in the season.
The toughest challenge today was for the trucks in the T4 category, as large dunes combined with soft sand created drama for the heavy vehicles.
Just as the Iveco of Pierpaolo Bonetti and crew solved their problems from a tumble at the opening Super Special Stage, the Italian’s found themselves stuck with a puncture which may see a late night return to the Bivouac at Moreeb Hill.
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, the season opening round of the FIA Cross-Country Rallies World Cup and FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, has traditionally attracted a host of partners, and in 2010 including Nissan, ADNOC, Al Ain Water, Crowne Plaza Yas Island, Explorer, FedEx, Tag Heuer and Thuraya. The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority is the title sponsor of the event.
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