There’s a double celebration in Abu Dhabi as the Red Bull Desert Wings hit the ground running for the new cross country rally season. Past and present Dakar Rally champions took top spot in the bike and car races at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge with Toby Price and Nasser Al-Attiyah establishing themselves as the guys to beat in this year’s FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship and FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup.
2016 has already proved a memorable year for Australian biker Toby Price with his first victory at the Dakar secured in January of this year. The Red Bull KTM Factory Team rider has now followed up one magnificent achievement with another as a succession of stage wins saw him win his first Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. The result fires Price to the top of the early FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship leaderboard.
Price was followed home by KTM team-mate Sam Sunderland as one of the comeback stories of the year begins to take shape. It’s nearly six months since the British biker broke his femur while leading the Merzouga Rally and was forced to miss the latest edition of the Dakar.
Elsewhere in the bike race local favourite Mohammed Balooshi narrowly missed out on a podium finish to come home fourth overall. Meanwhile, it was a race of up and downs for Hélder Rodrigues with a stage win to celebrate after mechanical issues had ultimately finished his chances of a top 10 result earlier in the race.
Joining Price on the top step of the podium were Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and his French co-driver Mathieu Baumel as the duo dominated the car race to win by over 30 minutes from their nearest rival. Nasser and Mathieu are the reigning FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup champions and were clearly delighted to get the defence of their title off to a winning start in their Toyota Hilux.
American offroad superstar Bryce Menzies raised plenty of eyebrows in the UAE with his own blistering speed as he pushed hard for a podium finish. Getting caught in the sand a few times eventually saw Menzies finishing outside the top three, but there was plenty in his fourth place finish to be proud about. The three-time SCORE Baja 500 champion took little time to adapt to the new discipline and alongside experienced navigator Andreas Schulz of Germany he put in a full week of top performances in the MINI.
There was more steady improvement for Poland’s Kuba Przygonski and Belgian co-driver Tom Colsoul as they brought home their MINI in fifth overall. Kuba’s countrymen Marek Dabrowski and Jacek Czachor, at the controls of a Toyota, also secured a top 10 result.
In the quad race Chile’s Ignacio Casale had to endure mechanical hiccups and time penalties that eventually put pay to his hopes of winning this contest. Despite the setbacks the former Dakar winner was able to go quickest on a couple of stages and remind his competitors that he will be back in the mix in the near future.
With nearly 1,500km of harsh desert terrain to negotiate in less than a week it has been another amazing effort by the Red Bull Desert Wings in Abu Dhabi. A rainstorm on day two of the contest certainly kept everybody on their toes as conditions changed dramatically and last minute tactically tweaks had to be implemented. The stage has now been set for stunning action in every category over the coming months and we can’t wait to see how this new cross country season plays out.
Toby Price: “The last days were very hot so we were lucky that that the first few days of the rally were much cooler. Every day in the desert was all about getting another 250km in the bag and being another day down. I did my best to ride smooth throughout the rally and get some rhythm going. Every win is great and this is definitely the best way to start to the new season.