AL ATTIYAH BUILDS AGAIN ON DESERT CHALLENGE LEAD BUT VASILYEV STILL CHASING HAT-TRICK DREAM

Rodrigues bounces back with stage win but Price reclaims lead in bikes battle

Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah is edging closer to his second victory in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED BY Nissan, but Russia’s Vladimir Vasilyev is refusing to give up his pursuit of a third successive cars triumph in the event

Partnered by French co-driver Mathieu Baumel in a Toyota Hilux, Al-Attiyah won today’s 280km Al Ain Water Stage, his third stage win in a row, to extend his lead to 15 mins 19 secs from Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov who climbed one place on the leg in their Mini All4Racing.

Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi and German co-driver Timo Gotschalk in another Mini slipped one place to third, and are another six minutes off the pace, although the nature of this demanding event means it would be wrong to discount any of the leading challengers with two days remaining.

Poland’s Jakub Przygonski, Finn Mikko Hirvonen and American Bryce Menzies in three other Minis completed the top six in the second round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies, as the previous day’s wind and rain was replaced by more typical desert weather.

While a succession of competitors became stuck in soft sand, it was a better day for the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, who put some earlier misfortunes behind him and rose two places in his Abu Dhabi Racing Mini to finish the stage in seventh position.

And it was a spectacularly much better day in the bikes category for Portugal’s Helder Rodrigues who won the stage after mechanical problems 24 hours earlier saw him plunge from contention and required the sweep team to return him to the bivouac.

With the top three again riding virtually in tandem for much of the stage, Australian first leg winner Toby Price reclaimed the overall lead, although his advantage over KTM team-mate, Dubai-based Sam Sunderland, is a slim 57 secs, with Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla just 18 seconds further away on his Husqvarna.

The UAE’s Mohammed Al Balooshi maintained his fourth position despite a crash on the stage, with Spain’s Txomin Arana Cobeaga and talented lady rider Laia Sanz completing the top six.

Veteran Dubai-based challenger Dave McBride maintained his ninth position in the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship.

“It’s been another great day of desert rallying, and quite a contrast from yesterday when we had some competitors saying they were affected by the rain and cold temperatures,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club, the rally organisers. “You have to be ready for anything in the Desert Challenge – that’s the beauty of the event.”

Reaching the end of the Al Ain Water stage, Al-Attiyah said: “It was a good day. I got into good rhythm early on. There are some sharp dunes but the Toyota worked really well, and the navigation was perfect.

Vasilyev, whose co-driver Zhiltsov was celebrating his 51st birthday, said: “Today was a good day for an Abu Dhabi race. We had a good rhythm and not a bad result. We started four minutes after Nasser so couldn't catch him, but we made no mistakes, had no punctures, we didn't get stuck. No problems so we are very happy.”

Saudi Al-Rajhi, completing the leg with a smile on his face despite losing second position to the Russian, said: “It was a good stage. I got stuck a bit once but it was fun.”

Al Qassimi commented: “We had a few ups and downs and some sections were very rough and took a lot to get out of as it was soft. But we got out and we made it here so it's good.

Happy to have snatched back the bikes lead, Price said: “There’s more and more and more sand, but it was a good trip on the bike and I caught the guys ahead. It was a long day but a great one, and I’m always having fun.”

On completing the stage, Sunderland said: “After Toby caught us he led the way for most of the stage and we just had to follow him after that.” Quintanilla said: “I lost time because I opened the stage but there are two days still to go and there’s a lot of racing left.”

Top Emirati rider Al Balooshi revealed: “I was running really well until 218km, then I had quite a big crash. It was bad call from my side. I hit a boulder and bent my front wheel. After that I took it slow but still managed a good time, I think.”

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 Al Ain Water Stage 3 (Provisional) Cars  
1. Nasser Al-Attiyah / Mathieu Baumel (QAT / FRA) Toyota Hilux                        11:02.19
2. Vladimir Vasilyev / Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS / RUS) Mini All4 Racing             11:17.38
3. Yazeed Al-Rajhi / Timo Gotschalk (KSA / DEU) Mini All4 Racing                     11:24.32

4. Jakub Przygonski / Tom Colsoul (POL / BEL) Mini All4 Racing              11:32.47
5. Mikko Hirvonen / Michel Perin (FIN / FRA) Mini All4 Racing                            11:39.07
6. Bryce Menzies / Andreas Schulz (USA / DEU) Mini All4 Racing                        11:40.17

7. Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi / Khalid Al Kendi (ARE /ARE) Mini All4 Racing      11:54.55

8. Mathieu Serradori / Didier Haquette (FRA / FAR) Buggy                                    11:56.21
9. Mark Dabrowski / Jacek Czachor (POL / POL)                                                     13:01.39
10. Nunzio Coffaro / Daniel Meneses (VEN / VEN)                                                 13:22.30  
Bikes   1. Toby Price (AUS) KTM 450 Rally Factory 1                                             11:35.07                     
2. Sam Sunderland (GBR) KTM 450 Rally Factory 1                                   11:36.04 3. Pablo Quintanilla (CHL) Husqvarna 450 Rally Factory 1                          11:36.22
4.  Mohammed Al Balooshi (ARE) KTM 450 Rally Replica                         12:04.33 5. Txomin Arana Cobeaga (ESP) Husqvarna 450 Rally Replica 1                 12:04.37
6. Laia Sanz (ESP) KTM 450 Rally Factory 1/3                                            12:12.24
7. Jakub Piatek (POL) KTM 450 Rally Replica 1/4                                       12:13.04
8. Pierre Alexandre Renet (FRA)                                                                   12:14.13
9. David McBride (GBR) KTM 450 Rally Replica 1                                     12:19.47
10. Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo (CHL)                                                       12:31.13  
Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED BY Nissan – remaining rally schedule: Wednesday:    ADNOC Stage 4 (258km)
Thursday:        Abu Dhabi Aviation Stage 5 (234km)                        
Finish: Yas Marina Circuit – 4.30pm.