Prokop, Quintanilla celebrate first victories in Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
Czech driver Martin Prokop and Chilean rider Pablo Quintanilla completed their paths to victory in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge powered by Nissan today, avoiding any late dramas as the event reached its conclusion after five days of spectacular action.
Prokop and co-driver David Pabiska, who started the final leg holding a 15 mins 20secs cars lead, were fourth fastest on the 218-km Abu Dhabi Aviation Stage and won by 13 mins 30.2 secs overall from Poland’s Jakub Przygonski with Belgian Tom Colsoul in a Mini John Cooper.
Russia’s two-times Desert Challenge winners Vladimir Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov finished third, another 32 mins 59 secs behind in a Mini Cooper Countryman.
Final stage winner Cyril Despres took fourth place alongside Swiss Steve Ravussin in a Buggy Ford 2WD, while German Stephan Schott and Portuguese co-driver Paulo Fiuza in a Mini John Cooper and Saudi Arabia’s Khaled AlFeraihi and Osama Alsanad in Nissan Patrol Pick Up completed the top six. The UAE’s defending champion, Khalid Al Qassimi, fourth overnight, failed to reach the finish, retiring with French co-driver Xavier Panseri 21-km into the stage when his Peugeot Abu Dhabi Racing Team 3008 DKR developed mechanical problems.
There were no problems for Husqvarna rider Quintanilla, who like Prokop captured his first Desert Challenge title, finishing fifth fastest on the day but winning overall by 5 mins 11 secs from defending champion, Dubai-based Sam Sunderland on a KTM.
Argentinian Kevin Benavides finished third on a Honda another 3 mins 23 secs away. Dakar Rally champion Matthias Walkner from Austria won the Abu Dhabi Aviation Stage to take fourth place overall on a KTM while Honda riders Paulo Goncalves of Portugal, the 2014 winner, and American Ricky Brabec completed the top six.
Spain’s Jose-Luis Pena Campo and Rafel Tornabell in a Polaris captured the buggies title while Saudi Arabia’s Ahmed Al Shegawi with French co-driver Laurent Lichtleuchter in a Toyota Landcruiser won the T2 production cars category. Dutchman Kees Koolen on his Barren Racer was crowned quads champion.
“We’ve added another chapter to the Desert Challenge success story, and after 28 years the rally is still going from strength to strength,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE and Emirates Motorsport Federation, at the official finish at Yas Marina Circuit. “It’s good to welcome new champions. They’ll enjoy having this success on their CVs.”
Jubilant at the finish, Prokop said: “I’m extremely happy of course to finish and it’s amazing to win, especially without making many mistakes over the five stages. My biggest issue building up to desert rallies was a lack of experience driving in the sand. I’ve been training hard over the past three years in Abu Dhabi and it’s good to see it pay off”
Przygonski said: “I’m really happy and it’s a great rally. It was a good fight between us and (Prokop) and we had a chance to catch them over the stages. But a few mistakes on our part meant we couldn’t make the time back. Martin has been really great over the past few days so congratulations to him.”
Stage winner Despres, who saw victory in the event five times as a rider, said: “Today was fun. Flat sections suit this car - good fast tracks. I’m feeling okay and glad to be back in the Desert Challenge and trying something different. I learned a lot about driving four wheels across the desert - very different to riding a motorbike across the dunes.”
The bikes had begun the final stage with a spectacular motocross-style mass start, and a beaming Quintanilla finished it to say: “I’m really happy to win the race. I had a great fight with the guys. It’s a big win for me, fantastic. A big thank you to all my team and for all the support I received.”
Stage winner Benavides said: “The last day was a motocross start and it was really great, but it’s hard in a group as there were no leaders, so it was a bit tough in the dunes. We had to push a lot in the last 50kms though and some went in front. I really had to fight (Walkner) to keep my overall position.”
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.