AL ATTIYAH INCREASES DESERT CHALLENGE LEAD AS QUINTANILLA EDGES CLASSIC BIKES TUSSLE

Vasilyev stays in hunt for third cars crown as rain, wind give desert rally different look and feel

Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah extended his overall cars lead in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED BY Nissan today while Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla grabbed a slender advantage in a fascinating bikes tussle between three of the world’s top riders.

Accompanied by French co-driver Mathieu Baumel in a new Toyota Hilux, Al-Attiyah won the 279km Nissan Patrol Stage to increase his overnight advantage to 10 mins 21 secs over Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi and German co-driver Timo Gotschalk in a Mini All4Racing.

Russia’s Vladimir Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov maintained hopes of a third successive Desert Challenge triumph in a Mini by climbing one place to third, although at 13 mins 30 secs off the pace will surely require Al Attiyah to find problems in order to achieve the hat-trick

On a day when scattered showers and wind gave the Desert Challenge an unusual look and feel, Polish drivers Jakub Przygonski and Marek Dabrowski followed by four-times WRC runner-up  Mikko Hirvonen of Finland completed the top six.

After having to replace the gearbox on his Abu Dhabi Racing Mini before the start of the stage, the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi was unable to improve on his ninth place overall from the previous day.

The retirement of eight-times Desert Challenge winner Marc Coma has guaranteed that there will be a new bikes champion this time, and a fascinating contest is developing between three of the world’s top riders to decide the outcome.

Overnight leader Toby Price finished the day in third place behind Quintanilla and Dubai-based British rider Sunderland, but the leading trio are separated by just 2mins 48secs after powering their way through the stage almost within touching distance of each other at times.

It was a good day for leading Emirati rider Mohammed Al Balooshi who climbed three places to finish the leg in fourth place. Talented Spanish lady rider Laia Sanz moved up two positions to seventh while Desert Challenge regular Dave McBride ended the leg in ninth place.

“The Nissan Patrol stage is always one of the most testing in the Desert Challenge, and today was no different,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club, the rally organisers. “This was cross country desert rallying at its best.”

After the top ten riders had set off on the Nissan Patrol stage at normal two-minute intervals, the remaining 29 bikes featured in a spectacular mass start in two waves, before the cars followed them onto a competitive section which lived up to its reputation as one of the most demanding.

Reaching the finish, a happy Al-Attiyah said: “It was a very difficult stage, needing a lot of concentration on the dunes and there were some very sharp ones. Driving the new car in the sand dunes was a very good experience. The Toyota is working very well, despite having less torque than the Mini. Today I gave 100% and I’m very happy to finish with such a lead.”

Al-Rajhi said: “It was a good stage, and a better result than yesterday. I’m still getting used to the new car but it was good fun going through the dunes, they are my playground after all. But it was a tiring stage. Coming in just after Nasser is a good indication though.”

Defending champion Vasilyev said: “It was a good stage, very sandy but not too hot. The visibility was tough and there were some very difficult dunes. I lost a little time, maybe 5 minutes minimum, but we pushed a lot and found the steeper dunes more difficult 50km from the end.”

Al Qassimi completed the stage to say: “It was a tough day with some sections having many dunes with blind drops. One caught us and we almost rolled. I hurt my neck so after that I backed off completely.”

Fellow Emirati driver Yahya Al Helei, competing in his 26th successive Desert Challenge, had been forced to withdraw overnight after first leg engine problems.

Quintanilla reached the end of the stage to say: “It was quite a long stage and pretty tough. I had a good start position and was catching up with Toby and Sam at refuelling. It was cooler today, but it was still tricky through the dunes as there were some lights making it difficult to see.”

Sunderland said:I rode out mostly with Toby and Pablo but it took me some time to catch Toby at the start, then we all rode together, I did bury my bike in a dune towards the end and lost about 10 seconds but overall it was good. I’m enjoying the temperature but being overcast affects the visibility, makes it harder to see. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Price commented: “It was a long but good day, some challenging dunes with one which got me off guard. It has been very much plain sailing, with a nice tussle between the three of us in the last 30km. The weather is nice and I’m pleased it’s not 40 degrees plus.

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 Nissan Patrol Stage 2 (Provisional) Cars
1. Nasser Al-Attiyah / Mathieu Baumel (QAT / FRA) Toyota Hilux                        7:24.14

2. Yazeed Al-Rajhi / Timo Gotschalk (KSA / DEU) Mini All4 Racing                     7:34.35
3. Vladimir Vasilyev / Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS / RUS) Mini All4 Racing             7:37.44

4. Jakub Przygonski / Tom Colsoul (POL / BEL) Mini All4 Racing              7:39.03 5. Marek Dabrowski / Jacek Czachor (POL / POL) Toyota Hilux                             7:47.42
6. Mikko Hirvonen / Michel Perin (FIN / FRA) Mini All4 Racing                            7:54.48
7. Bryce Menzies / Andreas Schulz (USA / DEU) Mini All4 Racing                        7:55.57
8. Mathieu Serradori / Didier Haquette (FRA / FAR) Buggy                                    7:58.40
9. Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi / Khalid Al Kendi (ARE /ARE) Mini All4 Racing      8:01.54

10. Nunzio Coffaro / Daniel Meneses (VEN / VEN)                                                 8:42.04  
Bikes
 
1. Pablo Quintanilla (CHL) Husqvarna 450 Rally Factory 1                          7:43.28
2. Sam Sunderland (GBR) KTM 450 Rally Factory  1                                  7:45.11
3. Toby Price (AUS) KTM 450 Rally Factory 1                                             7:46.16                       
4.  Mohammed Al Balooshi (ARE) KTM 450 Rally Replica                         8:11.11 5. Txomin Arana Cobeaga (ESP) Husqvarna 450 Rally Replica 1                 8:11.43
6. Jakub Piatek (POL) KTM 450 Rally Replica 1/4                                      8:16.07

7. Laia Sanz (ESP) KTM 450 Rally Factory 1/3                                           8:16.59
8. Pierre Alexandre Renet (FRA)                                                               8:17.38 9. David McBride (GBR) KTM 450 Rally Replica 1                                     8:20.52 10. Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo (CHL)                                                   8:36.25  

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED BY Nissan – remaining rally schedule:
Tuesday:          Al Ain Water Stage 3 (280km) Wednesday:    ADNOC Stage 4 (258km) Thursday:        Abu Dhabi Aviation Stage 5 (234km)                         Finish: Yas Marina Circuit – 4.30pm.