Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah, Dubai-based Englishman Sam Sunderland and Kuwait’s Fahad Al Musallam claimed the fastest times in the car, motorcycle and quad categories on the two cross-over laps of the very short super special stage of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED BY NISSAN, held at the Al-Forsan International Sports Resort, yesterday.
Behind the early pace-setters in their respective categories, former Czech WRC star Martin Prokop (Ford) and Russian Vladimir Vasilyev (Mini) and were second and third quickest in the cars behind Al Attiyah’s Toyota Hilux. Shaikh Khalid Al Qassimi’s first competitive kilometres in his new Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR resulted in a cautious sixth.
Frenchman Antoine Meo (KTM) and Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) rounded off the top three on two wheels behind Sunderland’s factory KTM. Aussie Lee Stephens pushed hard on his KTM 500 EXC to finish sixth, but is not eligible for the FIM World Championship.
Yamaha-mounted Al Musallam, the winner of the recent Dubai International Baja’s quad section, snatched a 4.8-second lead over Dutchman Kees Koolen, while Peru’s Alexis Hernandez Ponce was third quad home.
Cars were flagged away from the start by Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development and Chairman of the General Authority for Youth and Sports Welfare, and event founder and ATCUAE President Mohammad Bin Sulayem.
“It’s all systems go now for everyone for the next five days,” said Bin Sulayem.
“We had a competitors’ briefing at Yas Marina this morning and our team emphasised, once again, the importance of safety and personal well being on the rally, as we head deep into some of the most beautiful desert terrain on the planet.”
Twenty-five motorcycles, 14 quads and 34 cars left the start and the honour of running first on the road for the stage was handed to the duo of Koolan and Guatemala’s Rodolfo Schippers. Quads and motorcycles ran in pairs in reverse order, although local rider Mohammad Al Balooshi was given the task of being the first bike and moving ahead of Pablo Quintanilla for the ceremonial start on his Ride to Abu Dhabi Team KTM.
Qatar’s Mohammad Al Meer and Khalid Al Mohannadi were non-starters from the original entry list and Dubai-based American dentist Mike Ziegler was demoted to a national category running behind the last T3 car after homologation issues with his Toyota Prado.
Saudi Arabia’s Ahmad Al Malki, meanwhile, switched his Isuzu D-Max from T2 to the T1 category, but Colombian driver Antonio Marmolejo suffered mechanical issues and was not able to start at the 11th hour.
Seven cars started the event in the T2 category for series production cross-country vehicles and the fastest time fell to Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Saeidan in his Toyota Land Cruiser by a mere tenth of a second from the local driver Mansoor Al Helai. Defending FIA T2 World Champion Adel Hussein finished several seconds behind in his Nissan Patrol.
First blood in the T3 section went to the Frenchman Patrice Garrouste in his Polaris RZR 100. Ahmad Al Maqoodi, the winner of the 2016 Dubai International Rally, was second.
Today the real meat of the desert action gets underway with the first of five selective sections of 276.59km. The stage starts to the east of Arjan, south of Abu Dhabi, and finishes 19km to the north of Hameem on a major truck road en route to the event’s purpose-built bivouac near the remote Qasr Al Sarab desert resort. This is situated close to the desolate Rub Al Khali and the Saudi Arabian frontier.
Results: Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge — Top 4 positions after SSS (Saturday — unofficial): Cars
1. Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 1min 46.7sec; 2. Martin Prokop (CZE)/Jan Tomanek (CZE) Ford F-150 Evo 1min 51.1 sec; 3. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS)/Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS) Mini All 4 Racing 1min 51.6sec; 4. Mohammed Abu Issa (QAT)/Xavier Panseri (FRA) Mini All 4 Racing 1min 51.7sec
Bikes Top 4: 1. Sam Sunderland (GBR) KTM 450 Rally Factory 1min 47.5sec; 2. Antoine Meo (FRA) KTM 450 Rally Factory 1min 48.1sec; 3. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI) Husqvarna 450 Rally 1min 50.2sec; 4. Matthias Walkner (AUT) KTM 450 Rally Factory 1min 50.6sec
Quads Top 4: 1. Fahad Al-Musallam (KUW) Yamaha Raptor 700R 1min 49.2sec; 2. Kees Koolen (NED) Barren Racer One 690 1min 54.0sec; 3. Alexis Hernandez Ponce (PER) Yamaha Raptor 700 R 1min 54.8sec; 4. Maxim Antimirov (KAZ) Honda TRX 700 1min 56.4sec.
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