Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah yesterday stayed on course for his second Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge title after winning the third consecutive Rally stage yesterday.
Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel, winners of the Rally in 2016, yesterday stretched their overall lead at the 30th edition of the Desert Challenge to 11 mins 18 secs in their Toyota Hilux.
With two days and 414km of desert stages remaining, however, the Qatari cannot afford to lose pace or concentration, even though he also appears to be winning the mental battle with his closest challenger, Poland’s Jakub Przygonski.
“I’m quite happy with today – good navigation and great terrain which made it like surfing for much of the time,” Al Attiyah said on completing the 293km Abu Dhabi Sports Council Stage 3.
“Today we pushed a little more, each day we do a little more. All is going well.”
Partnered by Timo Gottschalk in a Mini John Cooper Works Buggy, Przygonski declared: “Today wasn’t a very good day for us because we couldn’t get a very good grip, so it’s good that we finished the stage. Sometimes it happens, but tomorrow is another day. Let’s see.”
Argentine Lucio Alvarez held on to third place in his Toyota Hilux Overdrive, but a broken drive shaft dropped Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi with Britain’s Michael Orr to seventh in their Toyota.
Finishing the day lying fifth overall, Poland’s Marek Goczal and Lukasz Laskawiec in a CAN-AM Maverick now top the FIA T4 category, while Saudi Arabia’s Saleh Alsaif with Russian co-driver Egor Okhotikov lead T3 in another CAN-AM Maverick.
Young Emirati driver Mansour Al Helei lies third in F4 and eighth overall with Abdulla Dakhan in another CAN-AM Maverick. The Czech Republic’s Martin Prokop and Viktor Chytka in a Ford Raptor RS Cross Country continue to dominate the class for 2022 specification cars.
“The first two days have been demanding, and fully lived up to expectations,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Emirates Motorsports Organisation (EMSO) and FIA Vice President for Sport. “We have two more testing legs to go, and no-one can take anything for granted.”
There have been some exhilarating battles involving the world’s top riders over the years in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, and another one is building this time, with a different stage winner on each of the first three legs.
Two-times Australian off-road champion Daniel Sanders was fastest yesterday, by 2 mins 44 secs from new FIM cross country rallies world champion Matthias Walkner, whose overall lead was slashed to 57.6 secs as a result.
Frenchman Adrien Van Beveren on a Yamaha lies third overall, 5mins 39 secs off the lead, with Emirati Sultan Al Balooshi holding eighth place on a KTM and Dubai-based veteran British rider Dave McBride now in the top ten.
The Abu Dhabi Sports Council stage tested the most resilient desert rally competitors to the limit, rewarding those prepared to attack the trail of demanding dunes and sharp slipfaces, closing with a 10km roller coaster ride of climbs and descents.
In the other FIM categories, South African Michael Docherty leads by more than an hour in Rally2, while Argentina’s Manuel Andujar has a similar advantage over the UAE’s Abdulaziz Ahli in the quads.