The Toyota Gazoo Racing crew of Nasser Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel claimed victory on the 30th anniversary edition of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, increasing their lead in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies with one round remaining. Lucio Alvarez and Armand Monleon finished second in another Hilux, while Denis Krotov and Konstantin Zhiltsov rounded out the podium in a MINI John Cooper Works Buggy.
The five-day event, staged in the famed Rub Al Khali, or Empty Quarter, delivered spectacular action and Al-Attiyah - who has now won the event three times - and Baumel had the competition under control from the outset. The Qatari/French pairing won all but one of the selective sections after a trouble-free run and reached the finish with a 21 minute and 12 second advantage after nearly 18 hours of competitive driving.
FIA's website said that Alvarez and Monleon have been hot on their heels throughout and never once outside the top three on any of the sections. The Argentinean/Spanish crew rounded out the event in fine style with a final stage victory and move into second position in the FIA World Cup standings. Krotov and Zhiltsov powered on to the provisional podium after the penultimate leg and had a close battle with Yazeed Al Rajhi to the finish. The Saudi Arabian driver, navigated by Britains Michael Orr, dropped time during the event with some technical problems but recovered from seventh to fourth, just two minutes and 19 seconds further adrift.
Sebastian Halpern and Bernardo Graue finished in fifth in a John Cooper Works Buggy with Austin Jones and Brazilian co-driver Gustavo Gugelmin finishing a fine sixth to win the T4 category. The BRP Can-Am Maverick crew won just one of the sections but a consistent performance has provisionally rewarded the American with the T4 Drivers title. Marek Goczal/Lukasz Laskawiec claimed seventh and second in the category. T4 vehicles also filled eighth and ninth in the hands of Aron Domzala/Maciej Marton and the UAE crew of Mansour Al Helei/Abdulla Dakhan, while Saleh Alsaif/Egor Okhotnikov rounded out the top 10 and claimed the T3 category event win in another Maverick.
Cristina Gutierrez went into this penultimate round leading the T3 standings by 11.5 points, following victories in Spain and Kazakhstan. Todays second place finish in the category has however secured her the T3 Drivers title with one round remaining.
Jakub Przygonski and Timo Gottschalk were running well in second position overall until the penultimate leg, where they dropped time with a broken driveshaft. The Polish/German John Cooper Works Buggy crew ultimately finished 18th after an impressive performance.
The final round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies takes the contenders to the deserts of Saudi Arabia for the Hail Rally (December 6-11), where the fight for the remaining titles will be decided. Al Attiyah said he was delighted to win the race for the third time. He stressed that one key learning for him was that in order to win, everyone on the team needed to work hard in order to achieve these results.