Spain’s Marc Coma crossed the finish line on day one of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge 2010, 5m 22s ahead of his closest rival with the BMW X-Raid’s young works driver, Leonid Novitskiy leading the Auto category after the opening 286km.
Coma, riding his factory KTM 690R, finished the first leg way clear of Giofil team’s Francisco Lopez, who took the day in the 450CC category, with Briton James West coming in third, giving the KTM UAE ADCB Racing Team a good rally start.
On four wheels, Sebastian Husseini proved the quad riders could be competitive against the two wheeled machines, finishing in the top ten just ahead of local hero Obad Echtibi on his Honda clocking up a time of 3h 41m, 11 minutes behind Husseini’s Suzuki.
The desert special stage kicked off from the Al Dhafrah plateau and headed into Abu Dhabi’s Empty Quarter where it was reported that heavy clammy heat made for uncomfortable conditions and loose sands marred visibility.
Second starter of the day in the Moto category, Lithuania’s Benedktas Vanagas came to an early end when his co-driver Sailius Jurgelenas sustained a back injury after particiuarly heavy landing off a dune just 85 kms into the leg. Jurgelenas was airlifted to Liwa Hospital where no real damage was found, although he later transferred to Madinat Zayed Hospital ‘just to be on the safe side’.
Meanwhile, Dubai-based Briton, Dave McBride lost out just six kms from the finish at Humreem when his Honda CRF 450X came to a halt. McBride, riding again for Gecko Team Honda, came seventh overall in 2009.
However, Coma was not deterred by the windy conditions: “This is always an exciting race for me, in fact the Desert Challenge is one of my favorites and a stage one win is a great start," said Coma who is eyeing his fourth win in five years.
Italy’s Camelia Liparoti-Baggiani the 2009 Ladies World Quad Champion is always enthusiastic and the today’s conditions did nothing to dampen her spirits: “I’m feeling quite confident and the shifting sands do not deter me. In fact, the sand is just like snow, the terrain can change in an instant.” Baggiani rides her 525XC ATV with support from the KTM UAE ADCB Racing Team this year.
Team owner, Tim Trenker also started and finished the day in great spirits energised by what he calls ‘his best team yet’. The ADCB backed team has four entries in the moto category.
One hundred entrants were flagged away against the backdrop of one of Abu Dhabi’s newest landmarks, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque by ADDC Chairman, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, and Saeed Al Dhaheri, Tourism Information Services Manager, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), the title sponsor.
The first day is arguably the easiest of the five desert legs, crossing high-speed sand flats and sabkha en route to the finish, north of Liwa.
Sulayem said the strong winds made it a tough ride for participants and organisers : "The changeable conditions are all part of the challenge and that’s why we see competitors from all around the world, returning year after year.”
“One car is out of the race following a non-critical injury sustained by the co-driver but, as always, we made sure that all safety procedures were in place and Lithuania’s Jurgelenas is being well cared, and is comfortable in Madinat Zayed Hospital."
The UAE's premier off-road event was the brainchild of Sulayem in 1991 and has been a FIA World Cup round since 1993. The rally has been managed by the ATCUAE since Sulayem took over at the helm in 2006.
The event has ADTA’s full backing for the second year running.
Sulayem says each stage is divided by passage controls and route waypoints, as competitors thread their way through the legendary Rub Al-Khali made famous by British explorer Wilfred Thesiger who crossed its desert expanse in the 1940s and 50s.
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge has traditionally attracted a host of partners, and in 2010 these include Nissan, ADNOC, Al Ain Water, Crowne Plaza Yas Island, Explorer, FedEx, Tag Heuer and Thuraya.
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