Monster Energy Honda get their first taste of the Liwa dunes

Paulo Gonçalves © DR

Monster Energy Honda Team’s Paulo Gonçalves and Kevin Benavides got their Abu Dhabi adventure underway with a technical first stage. Gonçalves posted fourth and Benavides sixth in a race that promises to be tightly-fought over the coming stages.

Some three months after the Dakar, where the riders of Monster Energy Honda Team last saw real competition, the squad’s duo were back in the thick of the action today with the first full stage of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge with 276.59 km of Special.

Both Portuguese rider Paulo Gonçalves and Argentinean Kevin Benavides had a good day’s racing as they attempted to distance themselves from yesterday’s higher finishers who started out from positions behind them.

Riding in the dunes is far more difficult for the competitors who open the track, whilst those behind can retrace the tracks left ahead of them and gather vital information about the state of the course and how to make up time.

Paulo Gonçalves finished fourth on the day conceding three minutes to table-topping Sam Sunderland. Gonçalves will get a shot at clawing the time back tomorrow in another dune-filled stage in the desert to the west of Abu Dhabi.

For Kevin Benavides, getting his first chance to explore the extraordinary landscapes of the Middle Eastern country, has been something of a revelation as the young rider has the opportunity to compare the Arabian dunes to those of his native South America. Kevin opted for a steady pace today in a bid to get to grips with the CRF450 Rally.
    
Paulo Goncalves – STAGE: 4th. +3’05 – OVERALL: 4th. +3’10
« Today we started with a fairly good stage in Abu Dhabi. It turned out to be better than expected as we had many riders behind and only three managed to catch me up. Tomorrow, I will try and do the best that I can to make the time up and try and enjoy myself with Monster Energy Honda Team. The bike is running perfectly and I just have to try and do my best in each of the stages. »

Kevin Benavides – STAGE: 6th. +9’14 – OVERALL: 6th. +9’22
« I’m pretty happy. This has been the first stage back after a long time out. It’s a tough race and being open points, it’s a very fast pace in the desert. It is incredible – very picturesque and a lot different to what I had imagined. There are a lot of short dunes and you have to be really careful. I have to be careful with the hand too, but I picked the pace up for the final part, feeling more confident on the bike. I think that I had a good stage. »    
    
Results Stage 1
1. Sunderland Sam – GBR – KTM Factory Racing Team, 3:29’22
2. Quintanilla Pablo – CHI – Husqvarna Factory Rally Team, +0’3
3. Walkner Matthias – AUT – KTM Factory Racing Team, +1’04
4. Goncalves Paulo – POR – Monster Energy Honda Team, +3’05
5. Renet Pierre-Alexandre – FRA – Husqvarna Factory Rally Team, +6’36
6. Benavides Kevin – ARG – Monster Energy Honda Team, +9’14
7. Meo Antoine – FRA – KTM Factory Racing Team, +20’03
8. Jaffar Mohammed – UAE, +24’57
9. Albalooshi Mohammed – UAE – Ride to Abu Dhabi Team, +36’45
10. McBride David – GBR – Vendetta Racing UAE, +42’28    
    
Rider Standings
1. Sunderland Sam – GBR – KTM Factory Racing Team, 3:31’09.5
2. Quintanilla Pablo – CHI – Husqvarna Factory Rally Team, +5.7
3. Walkner Matthias – AUT – KTM Factory Racing Team, +1’07.1
4. Goncalves Paulo – POR – Monster Energy Honda Team, +3’10.3
5. Renet Pierre-Alexandre – FRA – Husqvarna Factory Rally Team, +6’39.8
6. Benavides Kevin – ARG – Monster Energy Honda Team, +9’22.0
7. Meo Antoine – FRA – KTM Factory Racing Team, +20’03.6
8. Jaffar Mohammed – UAE, +25’33.0
9. Albalooshi Mohammed – UAE – Ride to Abu Dhabi Team, +36’58.2
10. McBride David – GBR – Vendetta Racing UAE, +42’56.1
    
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