Prokop, Quintanilla hit the front in Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
Czech driver Martin Prokop and Chilean rider Pablo Quintanilla were the big winners today as the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge powered by Nissan served up a potent reminder of how difficult it is to find a path to victory in this event.
Partnered by David Pabiska in a Ford F-150 Evo, Prokop won the spectacular 287km Nissan Stage 2 to grab an advantage of 10 mins 30.2secs from Poland’s Jakub Przygonski and Belgian co-driver Tom Colsoul as the overnight cars leaders fell to second place in their Mini John Cooper.
Finishing the day in third place, 1 min 24 secs further away in their Peugeot Abu Dhabi Racing Team 3008 DKR, the UAE’s Khalid Al Qassimi and French co-driver Xavier Panseri still retained hopes of a second successive Desert Challenge win with three demanding desert stages remaining.
With Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Seaidan and Russian co-driver Aleksei Kuzmich slipping one place to fourth in a Toyota Hilux Overdrive, Frenchman Cyril Despres and Swiss Steve Ravussin in a Buggy Ford 2WD and Russians Vladimir Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov in a Mini Cooper Countryman completed the top six.
Emiratis Yahya Al Helei and Khalid Alkendi finished the leg holding seventh place in a Nissan Pick Up and South Africans Terence Marsh and Riaan Greyling in a Nissan Navara made it an even better day for the manufacturer by entering the top ten.
But it was a day to forget for Frenchman Luc Alphand and German co-driver Andreas Schultz, who were second at the end of the first leg in their John Cooper Works Buggy but plummeted from contention after losing a lot of time among the dunes.
On a day when the heat and soft sand of the desert dunes made it a particularly tough stage for the riders, Quintanilla set the fastest time on his Husqvarna to take a lead of 1 mins 8 secs from the KTM of Dubai-based defending champion Sam Sunderland.
But with Argentinian Kevin Benavides on a Honda and Austria’s reigning Dakar Rally champion Matthias Walkner on a KTM both in hot pursuit, just 2 mins 39 secs separated the leading four riders.
Portugal’s Paulo Goncalves, the 2014 Desert Challenge champion, and American Ricky Brabec on a Honda completed the top six, but Australia’s overnight leader and 2016 winner Toby Price plunged out of the reckoning because of a shattered fuel pump.
Top Emirati rider Mohammed Al Balooshi, recent winner of the Dubai International Baja, held on to his top ten place among world-class competition with another good performance.
“The Nissan stage is traditionally one of the most demanding of the rally, and it was a big test again today,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE and Emirates Motorsport Federation. “We have some great battles developing in the cars and the bikes.”
Reaching the finish of the Nissan stage, Prokop made it clear that this had been anything but a trouble free day. “We had a tough two thirds of the stage and PC3 was full of soft sand and big drops,” he said. “We caught up with Al Qassimi and rode alongside with him for two hours, but I think we came off line a little. We crashed into a dune near the end.”
Przygonski was another driver to find problems. He said: “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.”
Seaidan said: “Today wasn’t my day. We had an oil pressure problem meaning our AC had to be cut making it very difficult to drive in the heat. Also we punctured a tyre 3km before the finishing line.”
Despres commented: “It was a very hot and exhausting day and I finished my water about 15km from the finish. I started seeing stars. The dunes were good, however the car is heavy when full of fuel. We lost a few minutes help someone stuck in the sand.”
Al Helei, who is maintaining a remarkable 100% appearance record in the event over 28 years, said: “I had a good drive although I feel there isn’t enough power in my car. There’s definitely something wrong. I was even getting stuck in small dunes. Anyway, I’m having fun and even helped out a couple of competitors along the way.”
Quintanilla reached the end of the Nissan stage to say: “It was a really good stage today. I started fifth so it was a good opportunity to catch some time on the guys ahead, but some big dunes and soft sand made it hard to maneuver.”
Sunderland said: “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.”
Walkner completed the stage to say: “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.”
With his hopes of a second Desert Challenge win effectively over for another year, Price said: “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.”
Balooshi said: “The 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.”
Taking place under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in Al Dafrah Region, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is forms the third round of the 2018 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and buggies and the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes and quads.
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Powered by Nissan is supported by Al Dafrah Region Municipality, Abu Dhabi Municipality, the UAE Army, Abu Dhabi Police, Nissan Middle East, ADNOC, Abu Dhabi Aviation, Al-Ain Water, National Ambulance Service, Tadweer, Yas Marina Circuit and the Qasr Al-Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara.