Nasser grabs Desert Challenge lead

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Nasser grabs Desert Challenge lead

With three long and testing desert stages remaining before the finish at Yas Marina Circuit on Thursday afternoon, the battle for honours is still wide open.

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Published: Tue 31 Mar 2015, 2:56 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 10:57 PM

Abu Dhabi — Nasser Al Attiyah grabbed the lead in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on Monday while Dubai-based British rider Sam Sunderland forced his way ahead in the battle of the bikes.

Partnered by French co-driver Mathieu Baumel in a Mini All4 Racing, Al Attiyah won the 279km ADNOC Special Stage 2 by 7mins 16 secs from Russia’s defending champion, Vladimir Vasilyev in another Mini, to grab a 4mins 13secs overall advantage.

With Dutchman Erik Van Loon climbing three places to third, UAE local hero Yahya Al Helei, the overnight leader, was seventh fastest on the day to finish the leg in fourth place overall alongside Emirati co-driver Khalid Al Kendi in his Nissan Pick-up.

After his stunning stage win 24 hours earlier, Al Helei was keeping pace with Al Attiyah and Vasilyev on Monday’s leg before losing time when forced to stop to repair a broken rear roll bar. Just 34 seconds further away in fifth was fellow-UAE driver Shaikh Khalid Al Qassimi in a Toyota Hilux, with Argentina’s Orlando Terranova completing the top six in another Mini.

The ADNOC stage begun with a spectacular mass start for the bikes, with the riders setting off in waves of 15.  While Sunderland briefly became stuck in the giant dunes of the Rub Al Khali, he was still first to finish the stage by three seconds from KTM team-mate Matthias Walkner of Austria. Victory on the stage, however, by 11mins 29 secs, went to Joan Barreda Bort who rode in the third wave of bikes, still ending the day 44th overall after his Leg 1 problems. Sunderland completed the stage holding an impressive 3mins 30secs advantage over KTM team-mate and reigning FIM world champion Marc Coma, with Spain’s seven-times Desert Challenge winner settling for 10th fastest on the day.

He completed the stage holding an impressive 3mins 30secs advantage over KTM team-mate and reigning FIM world champion Marc Coma, with Spain’s seven-times Desert Challenge winner settling for 10th fastest on the day. Defending champion Paulo Goncalves of Portugal is in third place, with Austrian Matthias Walkner, Portugal’s Ruben Faria and American Ricky Brabec completing the top six. After another good day, the UAE’s Mohammed Al Balooshi was still comfortable in seventh overall.

With three long and testing desert stages remaining before the finish at Yas Marina Circuit on Thursday afternoon, the battle for honours is still wide open. “So much can happen over the next three days so no driver or rider will be taking anything for granted,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, president of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organisers.

Reaching the end of a demanding stage which twisted into the Rub Al Khali, finishing close to the towering Moreeb Hill, Al Attiyah said: “Yesterday we lost 21 minutes but today we started really well and we were careful for first 150km because the dunes were tricky.  I really pushed for the last part and made up some good time.  Nothing special but I am happy.”

Vasilyev completed the leg to say: “It was a good stage thanks to Nasser because we stayed with him and it was very quick. As we saw him it made it a little bit easier.  If we did it alone we wouldn’t have been able to keep the same speed. We could not see him when we were in the dust and we lost our rear right tyre and maybe lost around two minutes but we are pleased.”

Again showing that he has adapted well to cross country desert rallying, Al Qassimi said: “We lost a few minutes stuck in the sand and then had a/c problems.  Hot air was blowing on to us — I drank all the water and then started losing concentration due to dehydration.”

Sunderland said: “I got stuck in the last part but arrived first. It was tough as it was a mass start and no-one knows what’s happening until the last 50km and then everyone starts racing like moto cross. We will see later on how the strategy works in terms of result. Everyone holds off at the start and then you have to race like mad at the end but it was good and the bike was great.”

Coma said: “I came in quite late and with the mass start the plan was not to push to the front and save myself for tomorrow. I am feeling happy and the bike is running well.” 



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