NASSER SURGES INTO DESERT CHALLENGE LEAD AS PRICE MAKES FLYING BIKES START

Vasilyev keeps hat-trick hopes alive on frustrating day for Al Qassimi

Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah surged into an early lead in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED BY Nissan today as the rally launched its spectacular five-day journey through the giant dunes and plains of the UAE’s Western Region of Al Gharbia.   Partnered by Frenchman Mathieu Baumel in a brand new Toyota Hilux, Al-Attiyah won the 278km Yas Marina Circuit Stage in impressive style to take a 2 mins 18 secs lead from Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi and German co-driver Timo Gotschalk in a Mini All4Racing.   Poland’s Jakub Przygonski and Belgian Tom Colsoul also in a Mini were 1 min 33 secs further away in third, with Russian Vladimir Vasilyev, the cars winner for the last two years, another 1mins 26secs behind.   Poland’s Marek Dabrowski in a Toyota Hilux and American Bryce Menzies, another Desert
Challenge newcomer in a Mini, completed the top six. Finn Mikko Hirvonen, the four-times World Rally Championship runner-up, finished the leg in seventh place in a Mini.
  It was a frustrating day for the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi alongside Emirati co-driver Khalid Al Kendi in a new Abu Dhabi Racing Mini All4 Racing.   He finished the leg 16 minutes off the lead in ninth place after sliding into a ditch and later briefly losing his way.   In the battle of the bikes, Australian rider Toby Price, this year’s Dakar Rally winner, took the stage to lead by 35 seconds from his KTM team-mate, Dubai-based Sam Sunderland. Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla is another 34 seconds away in third on his Husqvarna, with Portuguese riders Helder Rodrigues and Jakub Piatek followed by Spain’s Txomin Arana Cobeaga completing the top six.   Top Emirati rider Mohammed Al Balooshi finished the leg in seventh place, one place ahead of veteran Dubai-based Dave McBride, with Spanish lady rider Laia Sanz in ninth on her Desert Challenge debut.   “Today’s stage reminded competitors how demanding this rally is, no matter if you have been competing for years, or taking it on for the first time,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organisers. “It’s a tough challenge, but ultimately it’s a fair one.”   Al Attiyah clearly enjoyed his perfect start to the Desert Challenge, his technical disqualification 12 months ago long forgotten as he set out to become the first Arab driver to win the event since his own victory back in 2008.   Outpacing a trio of Minis, the car which has dominated the rally in recent years, he reached the end of the stage to say simply: “It was very good day and I’m pleased to show people that the performance of the Toyota is very good.”   Al-Rajhi said: “It was a good first stage, nothing special. We were sick in the morning, but we are here now and we finished so we’re happy.”   Aiming to become only the second driver to complete a Desert Challenge hat-trick, Vasilyev finished the leg to say: “It was a good fight. We stayed close with Nasser. When he stopped once it caused us to stop as well and we were there for 1-2 mins. But no real problems - a good day.”   A disappointed Al Qassimi confirmed: “I was stuck for about 10 minutes trying to avoid a bike and went into a ditch. I was then trying to catch up but missed a checkpoint and had to turn around.” Menzies said: “Today went really well. It's my first ever rally like this, a new experience which is awesome, and only Nasser passed us. We fought a bit with him but we played it safe today. Tomorrow we'll push.”   Based on his brilliant Dakar Rally victory three months ago and a succession of titles won in Australia, Price was always expected to be in the heat of the bikes battle on his Desert Challenge debut and he fully lived up to expectations.   He finished the stage to say: “Today was good. It got a little tricky to see when the sun got above us. We had one get off, nothing too crazy. It's a different challenge to Dakar. I like riding in the sand, across the dunes. It's a lot of fun and we got to the finish line that's the important thing.   Sunderland, runner up last year, commented: “It was a tough day with the strong wind creating a layer of sand making it difficult to read the terrain. I also had problems with my shoulder which I injured in the prologue.”
Quintanilla finished the stage to say: “I started a bit towards the back so I was pushing at the beginning. I got into good a rhythm then riding along with Toby. But soft sand makes it a tough ride and you sometimes get stuck a bit.”

Taking place under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Western region, the 26th Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED BY Nissan is organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the national motor sport authority.   The Nissan Patrol, the “Hero of All terrain in Life”, is positioned for the 13th year as the official vehicle of the event. The line-up of strategic sponsors and partners includes the Ruler’s Court in the Western Region, Western Region Municipality, Abu Dhabi Municipality, the UAE Army, Abu Dhabi Police, National Ambulance Service, Nissan, Yas Marina Circuit, ADNOC, Abu Dhabi Aviation, Tadweer (The Center of Waste Management – Abu Dhabi), Rotana and Centro Hotels - Yas Island, Qasr Al Sarab Resort, and DP World.  

Leading positions after Yas Marina Circuit Stage 1 (Provisional) Cars  
1. Nasser Al-Attiyah / Mathieu Baumel (QAT / FRA) Toyota Hilux                        3:30.00

2. Yazeed Al-Rajhi / Timo Gotschalk (KSA / DEU) Mini All4 Racing                     3:32.18
3. Jakub Przygonski / Tom Colsoul (POL / BEL) Mini All4 Racing              3:33.51 4. Vladimir Vasilyev / Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS / RUS) Mini All4 Racing             3:35.17
5. Marek Dabrowski / Jacek Czachor (POL / POL) Toyota Hilux                             3:35.54
6. Bryce Menzies / Andreas Schulz (USA / DEU) Mini All4 Racing                        3:36.07

7. Mikko Hirvonen / Michel Perin (FIN / FRA) Mini All4 Racing                            3:39.53
8. Mathieu Serradori / Didier Haquette (FRA / FAR) Buggy                                    3:43.26
9. Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi / Khalid Al Kendi (ARE /ARE) Mini All4 Racing      3:46.00

10. Nunzio Coffaro / Daniel Meneses (VEN / VEN) Toyota Hilux                           4:05.22
 

Bikes  
1. Toby Price (AUS) KTM 450 Rally Factory 1                                             3:39.39                       
2. Sam Sunderland (GBR) KTM 450 Rally Factory  1                                  3:40.14 3. Pablo Quintanilla (CHL) Husqvarna 450 Rally Factory 1                          3:40.48 4. Helder Rodrigues (POR) Yamaha WR 450 1                                            3:53.47 5.  Jakub Piatek (POL) KTM 450 Rally Replica 1/4                                      3:54.55 6. Txomin Arana Cobeaga (ESP) Husqvarna 450 Rally Replica 1                 3:55.27 7.  Mohammed Al Balooshi (ARE) KTM 450 Rally Replica                         3:56.56 8. 8. David McBride (GBR) KTM 450 Rally Replica 1                                     4:00.42 9. 9. Laia Sanz (ESP) KTM 450 Rally Factory 1/3                                            4:05.32 10. Pierre Alexandre Renet (FRA) Husqvarna 450 Rally Factory 1              4:09.16  

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED BY Nissan – remaining rally schedule:
Monday:          ADNOC Stage 2 (279km)
Tuesday:          Al Ain Water Stage 3 (280km)

Wednesday:    Nissan Patrol Stage 4 (258km)

Thursday:        Abu Dhabi Aviation Stage 5 (234km)
                       
Finish: Yas Marina Circuit – 4.30pm.