Al-Forsan stage glory for Al-Attiyah, Sunderland and Al-Musallam at Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, Dubai-based Englishman Sam Sunderland and Kuwait’s Fahad Al-Musallam claimed the fastest times in the car, motorcycle and quad categories on the two cross-over laps of the very short super special stage of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED BY NISSAN, held at the Al-Forsan International Sports Resort, on Saturday afternoon.
Behind the early pace-setters in their respective categories, former Czech WRC star Martin Prokop (Ford) and Russian Vladimir Vasilyev (Mini) and were second and third quickest in the cars behind Al-Attiyah’s Toyota Hilux. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi’s first competitive kilometres in his new Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR resulted in a cautious sixth.
Frenchman Antoine Meo (KTM) and Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) rounded off the top three on two wheels behind Sunderland’s factory KTM. Aussie Lee Stephens pushed hard on his KTM 500 EXC to finish sixth, but is not eligible for the FIM World Championship.
Yamaha-mounted Al-Musallam, the winner of the recent Dubai International Baja’s quad section, snatched a 4.8-second lead over Dutchman Kees Koolen, while Peru’s Alexis Hernandez Ponce was third quad home.
Cars were flagged away from the start by His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al-Nahyan, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development and Chairman of the General Authority for Youth and Sports Welfare, and event founder and ATCUAE President Mohammed Ben Sulayem.
“It’s all systems go now for everyone for the next five days,” said Ben Sulayem. “We had a competitors’ briefing at Yas Marina this morning and our team emphasised, once again, the importance of safety and personal well being on the rally, as we head deep into some of the most beautiful desert terrain on the planet.”
Twenty-five motorcycles, 14 quads and 34 cars left the start and the honour of running first on the road for the stage was handed to the duo of Koolan and Guatemala’s Rodolfo Schippers. Quads and motorcycles ran in pairs in reverse order, although local rider Mohammed Al-Balooshi was given the task of being the first bike and moving ahead of Pablo Quintanilla for the ceremonial start on his Ride to Abu Dhabi Team KTM.
Qatar’s Mohammed Al-Meer and Khalid Al-Mohannadi were non-starters from the original entry list and Dubai-based American dentist Mike Ziegler was demoted to a national category running behind the last T3 car after homologation issues with his Toyota Prado. Saudi Arabia’s Ahmed Al-Malki, meanwhile, switched his Isuzu D-Max from T2 to the T1 category, but Colombian driver Antonio Marmolejo suffered mechanical issues and was not able to start at the 11th hour.
Seven cars started the event in the T2 category for series production cross-country vehicles and the fastest time fell to Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Saeidan in his Toyota Land Cruiser by a mere tenth of a second from the local driver Mansoor Al-Helai. Defending FIA T2 World Champion Adel Hussein finished several seconds behind in his Nissan Patrol.
First blood in the T3 section went to the Frenchman Patrice Garrouste in his Polaris RZR 100. Ahmed Al-Maqoodi, the winner of the 2016 Dubai International Rally, was second.
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is taking place under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Ruler’s representative in Al-Dafra region, and has invaluable support from Al Dafrah Region Municipality, Abu Dhabi Municipality, the UAE Army, Abu Dhabi Police, National Ambulance Service, Yas Marina Circuit, ADNOC, Abu Dhabi Aviation, Al-Ain Water, Abu Dhabi Waste Management, Rotana and Centro Hotel – Yas Island, the Qasr Al-Sarab Resort and Al-Forsan Circuit.
Tomorrow (Sunday) the real meat of the desert action gets underway with the first of five selective sections of 276.59km. The stage starts to the east of Arjan, south of Abu Dhabi, and finishes 19km to the north of Hameem on a major truck road en route to the event’s purpose-built bivouac near the remote Qasr Al Sarab desert resort. This is situated close to the desolate Rub Al-Khali and the Saudi Arabian frontier.