There were significant moves made at the top of both the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship and FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup this week in Qatar. With plenty of precious championship points up for grabs, we saw a materclass on the dunes from the Red Bull Desert Wings squad who collected wins in the bike, quad and car categories of the Sealine Rally.
The bike race got off to an intriguing beginning with a mass start meaning the entire field got underway side-by-side. The gaps between riders were still minimal as the leading bikers finished the 225km special stage. A joint stage win was awarded to KTM rider Sam Sunderland and Pablo Quintanilla with reigning Dakar Rally champion Toby Price, also on a KTM, just two seconds behind the leading pair. On the following day Price leapfrogged his rivals to take the overall lead of the race.
However, Australia’s Price did not appear on the start line for stage three due to a slipped disc in his back. Remarkably Sunderland and Quintanilla finished the third day as they had finished the first with exactly the same time and a share of the overall lead. Then the fourth stage saw a navigational mistake by Quintanilla of Chile that allowed British rider Sunderland to open up a gap at the head of the race. This cushion allowed Sunderland to manage his pace on the final stage and take the Sealine Rally’s top prize.
Hélder Rodrigues of Portugal parked his Yahama in third place behind Sunderland and Quintanilla while Mohammed Balooshi’s race came to a premature end due to a fractured knee sustained in a heavy crash.
It was a lot more straightforward in the quad contest for Chile’s Ignacio Casale who used three consecutive stage wins at the start of the week as a springboard to securing the overall win. Although focused on the win, Casale still took the time to stop and assist Balooshi when he saw the UAE biker had suffered a crash.
There was lots for the local fans to celebrate in the car race as Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and French co-driver Mathieu Baumel won the Sealine Rally in emphatic style. The defending FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup champions have now got the new season off to perfect start by following up their win in Abu Dhabi earlier this month with this victory in Qatar. Also driving a Toyota Hilux were the Polish pair of Marek Dabrowski and co-driver Jacek Czachor. Despite rolling their car on the third stage the Poles battled their way to the finish line and a respectable sixth place finish.
While a few Desert Wings won their categories and a couple saw their races come to an early end due to injury, we salute every member of the squad for giving their best at the Sealine Rally in Qatar and look forward to sharing the next adventure soon.
Sam Sunderland: “I arrived at one point on the penultimate stage and could not see any tracks in front of me in the sand from Pablo (Quintanilla) so I figured that he’d made a mistake and I thought to myself, just keep going. I had to capitalise as much as I could. I pushed a lot trying to make as few mistakes as possible. The road book is so tricky here. We have to stay focused. Anything can happen. This race is brutal. It’s really physical and if you hit one stone it’s the end of your day.