Sam Sunderland takes overall win in Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team’s Sam Sunderland on Thursday opened his account in the race for the 2017 FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship title with a solid overall victory in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, the opening round of the series.
Sam Sunderland, who in January became the first British rider to win the Dakar Rally, finished with an overall time of 18:14.32.5 hours on his KTM 450 RALLY bike for the five desert stages and the opening Super Special. This gave him an overall winning margin of 6:13.7 minutes on second placed Pablo Quintanilla of Chile. KTM factory teammate Matthias Walkner of Austria finished overall third. The same riders also finished in that order in the fifth and final stage, the Abu Dhabi Aviation, which had a timed special of 234.01 km.
Sunderland: "I'm happy to take the win of course. It's always good, and that's the objective. The team was good all week, and I'm pleased to get the job done. It's almost like a home race for me. I've been close to winning it many times before but to get it done this year feels very cool."
The British-born rider is based in Dubai and this rally, where there were long rides in the soft dunes, and mostly under oppressive temperatures in the high 40 degrees Celsius showed that he is very comfortable in the environment. He also came away with three stage wins in the rally.
Walkner, who finished second to Sunderland in the 2017 Dakar Rally showed amazing consistency throughout the five-day competition. He was third in four stages and finished fourth in the other, but said after the race that he had been a little nervous about making a mistake in the final stage.
Walkner: “It was a really nice stage today and very fast. I knew everyone had to push because we still had to fight for the podiums. At first, I felt my speed wasn't that good, and I was a bit nervous about making mistakes, but I was able to ride a bit faster after the refueling. Overall I think this was a pretty good result especially because the dunes are not my favorite terrain. They are fun to ride but not for racing."
French rider Antoine Meo returned to the factory team after a long injury break to finish sixth in the final stage and sixth overall. He wrapped up his week with renewed confidence and had a close fight with fellow Frenchman Pela Renet in the final stage, finishing just 36 seconds behind him. Meo and Renet are also old rivals from the world of Enduro racing, and both were world champions before making the switch to rally-raid.
Meo: "I'm very happy to finish without any crashes, and the result was pretty good. The third and fourth days were pretty difficult for me physically but today was a bit better because there was more piste than dunes. But I enjoyed riding in the dunes, and it was a lot of fun today. I also enjoyed the navigation, and I hope to continue like this in the next race."
The factory team will now move on to contest round two of the world championship at Qatar (April 17-22).