Stéphane Peterhansel and Sam Sunderland remain the men to catch after a day of drama in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Powered by Nissan set the scene for a thrilling last leg sweeping back to the UAE capital.
While Peterhansel extended his overnight cars lead to 18 mins 35 secs from the UAE’s Khalid Al Qassimi, the trail of misfortunes which stopped some of his main rivals in their tracks on the 286.10km ADNOC stage suggest that victory is anything but certain. While the French five-times winner and wife Andrea in a Mini John Cooper Works Rally had a smooth passage through the dunes of the Rub Al Khali, setting the day’s fastest time, three of the overnight top five had days to forget.
The biggest casualty was Bernhard Ten Brinke who was lying second overnight but went out of the rally after the second of two incidents in his Toyota Hilux Overdrive. He reached the service halt with the roof damaged and a wheel needing to be replaced after the car rolled on the stage. Shortly after restarting, another accident ended with Ten Brinke and co-driver Tom Colsoul being transferred by helicopter to hospital in Madinat Zayed. Their injuries were not believed to be serious.
Czech Jakub Przygonski, fastest on the previous leg, failed to even start today’s stage because of mechanical problems, eventually returning his John Cooper Works Buggy to the bivouac with his challenge over for another year. Defending champion Martin Prokop also saw his fading hopes disappear after a sequence of mechanical issues in his Ford Raptor RS Cross Country.
Al Qassimi in the Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR was one of several drivers to be stopped by soft sand early on. He recovered and will find confidence in the fact that he started the final leg with a far greater deficit two years ago and went on to win.
Finishing the day in third overall another 27 mins 37 secs adrift was Poland’s Aaron Domzala in a Toyota Hilux Overdrive. Completing the top six were Russia’s two-times winner Vladimir Vasilyev in a BMW X3 followed by the two CAN AM Maverick X3 buggies of Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela and American Casey Currie who are separated by just 43 seconds in the fight for the T3 title.
Sunderland’s bikes lead, meanwhile, was whittled down to a slender 18 seconds by Chile’s Jose Cornejo, today’s impressive stage winner. The reward in cross country rallying for winning a stage is being first away the next day, with no tracks to follow and the pack giving chase, and not for the first time overnight leader Sunderland felt the heat today. His was only the seventh fastest time, 12 mins 33 secs slower than Cornejo who is now breathing down his neck, with the battle for the title looking very much like a two-bikes race to the finish, barring any final leg disasters for the leading pair.
“We have seen again today how tough and unpredictable the Desert Challenge can be, and we look forward to a great finish tomorrow, knowing there could still be more surprises,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organisers, and FIA Vice President for Sport. The rally finishes at Yas Marina Circuit at 5pm tomorrow.
Taking place under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in Al Dafrah Region, the event is supported Abu Dhabi Aviation, Abu Dhabi Police, ADNOC, Al Ain Water, Al Dhafra Region Ruler’s Representative Court, National Ambulance, Nissan, United Arab Emirates Armed Forces and Yas Marina Circuit.
Despite a difficult leg littered with time penalties, Qatari driver Mohammed Al Meer leads the T2 production class in a Nissan Patrol by more than nine hours from Latvian Aldis Vilcans in a Toyota Land Cruiser. In the quads, Kuwaiti Fahad Al Musallam on a Yama leads by 5 mins 38 secs from Poland’s Rafal Sonik.
Peterhansel completed the ADNOC leg to say: “It was a long stage today, and luckily we didn't get stuck and kept on moving as it was a very difficult stage for the cars, with very complicated dunes. I like it this way. If it’s too easy I find it boring.”
Al Qassimi said: “It was difficult and we got stuck on the first section a lot. There was a lot of soft sand and we're in a two wheel drive car. But we're here now. I'm not sure where we finished in the timings because of the amount of time we spent digging ourselves out.”
Domzala finished the stage to say: “Amazing day. We had a minor electric issue for around three minutes early on in the stage. We caught up with Vladimir and Al Qassimi and had a close ride with those guys until Vladimir had a puncture and dropped behind. I couldn't get past Al Qassimi, his pace is quick.”
Bikes stage winner Cornejo reached the end of the leg to say: “I was pushing today to try and recover as many minutes as possible. Who knows, if I win this stage it will make it hard for me tomorrow having to break the first tracks. I will fight to the end for sure.”
Sunderland reflected: “Another tough day especially with opening the stage. It always puts you at a disadvantage. I'm happy with the job I've done today and I only arrived with two other riders. Another long day and I'm really tired which is normal after a stage like this. You have to ride really technically as the colours of the dunes can be confusing.”
Finishing the stage, Luciano Benavides said: “I'm feeling much better than yesterday. It was really nice to ride with my brother as I caught up to him and it was great to finish alongside him. It was the first time this rally I have rode with him so a great experience.”
The UAE’s FIM World Cup champion Mohammed Al Balooshi ended the day in ninth place overall and said: “In the last 60km I found my rhythm, which was a good feeling - building up my confidence after my accident at the Desert Challenge last year. I’m happy to be back and focusing on the task.”
Leading positions after ANDOC Stage 4 (provisional)
1. Stephane Peterhansel / Andrea Peterhansel (FRA / DEU) / MINI JCWorks Rally 15:13:16.0
2. Khalid Al Qassimi / Xavier Panseri (ARE / FRA) / Peugeot 3008 DKR 15:31:51.0
3. Aron Domzala / Maciej Marton (POL / POL) / Toyota Hilux Overdrive 15:59:28.0
4. Vladimir Vasilyev / Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS / RUS) / BMW X3 16:09:15.0
5. Reinaldo Varela / Gustavo Gugelmin (BRA / BRA) / CAN AM Maverick X3 16:46:59.0
6. Casey Currie / Laurent Lichtleuchter (USA / FRA) / CAN AM Maverick X3 16:47:42.0
7. Martin Prokop / Viktor Chytka (CZE / CZE) / Ford Raptor RS Cross Country 17:16:45.0
8. Cyril Despres / Daniel Oliveras (FRA / ESP) / Mini John Cooper Works Buggy 19:25:04.0
1. Sam Sunderland (GBR) / KTM 450 Rally Factory / 1 15:06:43.0
2. Jose Cornejo (CHL) / Honda CRF 450 Rally / 1 15:07:01.0
3. Luciano Benavides (ARG) / KTM 450 Rally Factory / 1 15:11:37.0
4. Kevin Benavides (ARG) / Honda CRF 450 Rally / 1 15:27:59.0
5. Andrew Short (USA) / HUSQVARNA FR 450 / 1 15:42:31.0
6. Mark Ackerman (ZAF) / HUSQVARNA F 450 RR / 1 16:05:53.0
7. Ryan Blair (GBR) / HUSQVARNA F 450 RR / 1 16:19:20.0
8. Mohammed Meshari Jaffar (KWT) / KTM 450 Rally Replica / 1 16:23:26.0
9. Mohammed Al Balooshi (ARE) / KTM 450 Rally Replica / 1 16:32:23.0
10. Fahad Al Musallam (KWT) / Yamaha Raptor 700 / 2 18:27:02.0
Source: ADDC press release