We’re barely at the midway point of the 2018 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and already the dune-based rally has shown plenty of bite. Some top-level rally-raid talents have come off second best against the perilous terrain while a handful of competitors have managed to stay on the attack.
Defending bike race champion Sam Sunderland (GBR) has impressed on the dunes and sits second overall behind Pablo Quintanilla (CHI). Sunderland was forced to retire from the Dakar Rally earlier this year with a back injury so to see him return to racing and fighting for top honours so soon is remarkable.
Sunderland’s fellow Red Bull KTM Factory Team rider Matthias Walkner (AUT) is also within touching distance of Quintanilla. The current Dakar champion trails Sunderland by just over a minute with Quintanilla a further minute in front.
« Today was a rough stage and really hot. The big peaks and dunes were difficult to read. » – Matthias Walker
The news is not so good for the third Red Bull KTM Factory Team biker as Toby Price (AUS) lost time on account of a shattered fuel pump. The mechanical problem made the task of completing the 287-kilometre stage even tougher.
« I lost so much time which will be hard to make up, but that’s rallying I will keep cruising over the next few days. » – Toby Price
Price drops to eighth overall in the bike race and is joined in the Top 10 by Mohammed Al Balooshi (ARE) who continues to hold his own against international-class opposition.
With two of the five desert stages completed in Abu Dhabi the leaderboard in the car category is also taking shape. After racing over 500 kilometres across the dunes Kuba Przygonski (POL) sits second overall, behind leader Martin Prokop (CZE) and in front of Khalid Al Qassimi (ARE) in third.
Przygonski and co-driver Tom Colsoul (BEL) were caught out by the dunes on Monday’s stage but managed to keep their cool amid fierce heat in the desert.
« We got stuck really badly and had a lot of digging to do. We lost around 15 minutes. It was really soft sand and with no shadows it’s hard to read. » – Kuba Przygonski
Having won the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge five times on a bike it’s hard to surprise Cyril Despres (FRA) but even he has been taken aback by the sheer heat out on the course. Despres has driven his new ride, a two-wheel drive SMG Buggy, to fifth overall after three days of racing.
« It was a very hot and exhausting day and I ran out of water at one point. I started seeing stars. » – Cyril Despres
Luc Alphand (FRA) provided more than his fair share of the drama on Monday when a strong start to the rally was undone by gearbox trouble. The former Dakar winner had started the day in the podium places but now stage results are the target for the rest of the week.
« We started having a problem selecting the gears and then after that we only had second gear. That really slowed us down. » – Luc Alphand
With 750 kilometres still to be raced over the dunes there are plenty of twists and turns yet to come at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. Where will those precious championship points be heading? All will be revealed back at the Yas Marina Circuit on Thursday.
Sam Sunderland: « I had a difficult day today. A lot of the track was off piste and the sun was pretty high and I reckon I lost time today. I managed to catch Toby early on and we rode together. It was an extremely hot and long day. »
Matthias Walkner: « That was a rough stage and really hot. The big peaks and dunes were difficult to read. In the end we rode together to the finish. »
Toby Price: « It was a tough day, losing a lot of time with a broken fuel pump which I had to fix. I lost so much time, which will be hard to make up, but that’s rallying I will keep cruising over the next few days. »
Mohammed Al Balooshi: « The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge really started today. It was a very difficult stage and it was hard to judge the sand up until the refuel. I managed to pick up after the refuel and joined up with another Honda rider and we rode out until the stage finish. It was a lot of fun today with some great jumps over the dunes and I definitely feel I’ve done better than last year’s stage. »
Kuba Przygonski: « We got stuck really badly and had a lot of digging to do. We lost around 15 minutes. It was really soft sand and with no shadows, hard to read. We are here so we are happy. »
Cyril Despres: « I wasn’t expecting it to be so hot inside the car that’s for sure. Our stage started OK today, we caught up to a couple guys in front. We nearly had a crash with Kuba (Przygonski) when he was stuck in the sand. I stopped to help my fellow former motorcyclist. We took the rope and tried our best to help him get out of the hole he was in. After this break of five or six minute we got back to racing the dunes. Here it’s dunes all day, dune after dune after dune! It was a long day and before the finish I ran out of water. This got me seeing stars and feeling dehydrated so it was great to reach CP3 and refill my Camelbak. We were third on today’s stage and are fifth overall and hoping for even better tomorrow. »
Luc Alphand: « We started off really well today but then ran into trouble with the gearbox. First of all we had trouble selecting the gears and then it became worse because we only had second gear. We had to slow right down and when we reached CP1 we had to make a decision with the team. There was too far to go with only second gear working. This is motorsport and in motorsport anything can happen and the part we broke today is so small but it has burned our race. Anyway we’ll continue, of course we’ll get a big time penalty, but we’ll be back out on the track for the three days left to go. We’ll go out there with no pressure, enjoy ourselves and help to further develop the car. »