The Polish crew of Aron Domzala and Maciej Marton delivered an impressive performance to snatch third position and a podium finish for Overdrive Racing in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, round two of the 2019 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.
The Toyota Hilux crew overcame sandstorms, strong winds, punishing heat and the gruelling energy-sapping sand dunes of the UAE’s Empty Quarter to claim one of the most important results of the young Pole’s cross-country career.
Dutchman Ten Brinke teamed up with Belgian co-driver Tom Colsoul for the second time this season in a second Overdrive Toyota and the duo were holding second overall at the start of day four, despite flat tyres and several on-stage delays. Unfortunately, they crashed into retirement on day four and lost a potential runner-up place behind eventual winner, Stéphane Peterhansel, of France and his wife Andrea.
“After 40k of stage four we had made up four minutes on the race leader and were virtually together in the lead of the rally,” said Colsoul. “So we tried to gain maximum advantage in order to control the race on the last day. When you push hard it always comes with a certain risk. We had a huge impact after a dune at around 180km of the stage and were forced to stop at km245, as the rear suspension suffered too much. We also suffered in the impact and were taken to hospital for checks, but nothing was broken. We are sad about the result, but the speed and the skills were there.”
Saudi Arabian driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz claimed one fastest time on the second stage in the third Overdrive Hilux, but a transmission issue on the opening day cost them a stage maximum penalty and technical issues forced them to retire before the fourth selective section through the Liwa dunes.
Frenchman Cyril Despres moved into an early advantage on the opening selective section of 261.97km between Abu Dhabi and the overnight halt in Liwa. Ten Brinke was his closest rival in the first of the three Overdrive Toyotas and Domzala reached the Qasr Al Sarab bivouac in seventh place.
Ten Brinke said: “We started fourth so there were good tracks to follow. We burst a tyre after jumping a dune and lost three or four minutes finding a safe spot to change it.”
But it was a disappointing start for Al-Rajhi in the third Hilux and the Saudi was badly delayed with rear differential issues.
Al-Rajhi bounced back from his opening stage disappointment to win the first of the Liwa loop stages of 222.80km through the towering dune ranges. The Saudi set a time of 3hrs 19min 36sec to beat nearest rival Vladimir Vasilyev by 4min 14sec. But the Riyadh driver remained at the foot of the overall standings after incurring over 113 hours of time penalties.
“It was a great day and a good feeling to finish first after an unlucky first day,” said the Saudi.
Peterhansel claimed the fourth fastest time and snatched an outright advantage of 2min 26sec over Ten Brinke, the Dutchman finishing the special in sixth but maintaining his overall position after former leader Despres stopped. Domzala was eighth to hold seventh in the rankings.
Ten Brinke added: “It was a tough day. The first 25km I was driving well, then we got stuck and lost time. We were trading places with Yazeed like cat and mouse on the stage. Unfortunately, 50km from the finish we hit a jump and it broke my seat. After this it was a challenge to reach the finish.”
The third timed section of 297.97km was the longest of the event and the second of the loops through the Liwa dunes. Przygonski beat Peterhansel by 2min 19sec to claim the stage win, as the Frenchman extended his overall lead over Ten Brinke to 4min 23sec. The Dutchman was fourth fastest on the special where Domzala was seventh and moved up to sixth overall. Al-Rajhi found himself stranded in the dunes with technical issues and incurred another stage maximum penalty before retiring from the event.
Ten Brinke said: “We began the stage very quick then we caught up with Yazeed and saw he had a problem. Then we caught Jakub (Przygonski) and then out left-front tyre exploded coming along a fast straight. We changed it and then had another puncture after 10km).”
Domzala added: “We got stuck twice, the second time in a nasty hole and damaged the front left of the car.”
The penultimate fourth stage was the last of the loops at 286.10km and another fastest time enabled Peterhansel to extend his lead to 18min 35sec. It was Domzala who took up the challenge on this occasion and the Pole carded the second quickest time to move up to third place behind local driver Khalid Al-Qassimi.
Domzala said: “Amazing day. We had a minor electrical issue for around three minutes. Then we caught Vladimir (Vasilyev) and Al-Qassimi and had a close ride with those guys.”
Unfortunately, Ten Brinke’s brave run came to an end in the stage when he crashed and the Dutchman and co-driver Colsoul were helicoptered to the nearby Madinat Zayed hospital for medical checks. They were released soon afterwards but the incident had cost the Dutchman his second place in the standings. They had survived another incident earlier in the stage, which came to light when the Toyota Hilux reached the service point with roof and wheel damage after rolling in the dunes.
The fifth timed section ran for 214.47km between Liwa and Abu Dhabi and preceded a final liaison to the finish ceremony at the Yas Marina circuit. Domzala stayed clear of trouble over the final kilometres to claim an impressive podium finish for Overdrive Racing, as Przygonski snatched the stage win and Peterhansel confirmed victory over Al-Qassimi.
2019 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge – provisional results (@12.30hrs)
1. Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA)/Andrea Peterhansel (DEU) MINI John Cooper Works Rally 18hrs 03min 45sec
2. Khalid Al-Qassimi (ARE)/Xavier Panseri (FRA) Peugeot 3008 DKR 18hrs 12min 33sec
3. Aron Domzala (POL)/Maciej Marton (POL) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 18hrs 50min 01sec
4. Cassie Currie (USA)/Laurent Lichtleuchter (FRA) Can-Am Maverick T3 19hrs 43min 18sec
5. Reinaldo Varela (BRA)/Gustavo Gugelmin (BRA) Can-Am Maverick T3 19hrs 44min 30sec
6. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS)/Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS) BMW X3 CC 19hrs 44min 44sec
7. Martin Prokop (CZE)/Viktor Chytka (CZE) Ford Raptor RS Cross-Country 19hrs 56min 05sec
Source: Neil Perkins / Overdrive Racing press release