ABU DHABI: Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel continues to lead the way in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge after a third day that saw some of the world’s top drivers and riders race across the Al-Dhafra dunes.
Peterhansel, in an Audi RS Q e-tron, will become the most successful driver in the 31-year history of the event if he holds on for a seventh cars win, after extending his overall lead to 30 minutes and 17 seconds from Czech Martin Prokop, the 2018 winner, in a Ford Raptor.
With Poland’s Jakub Przygonski another 55 minutes further adrift in third place at the wheel of a Mini John Cooper Works Buggy, Peterhansel is in complete control.
He will take nothing for granted, however, particularly after learning that Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi had plunged from contention when his Toyota Hilux came to an abrupt halt near the end of the stage, while lying just 11 minutes behind in second place.
“Today was very good,” Peterhansel said. “We had a good drive over the dunes, overtaking Yazeed this morning. We pushed more this afternoon as the car was good and not overheating. We are learning a lot about the car. For the last two stages we will push very hard, looking for a victory.”
The fastest time on the 270-kilometer Al-Futtaim Toyota Stage 2 was set by defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah in another Toyota Hilux, with nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb 5:16 away in his Prodrive Hunter.
For a second day, however, Al-Attiyah and Loeb were battling largely for World Rally-Raid Championship points, with their hopes of victory in the event already ended by opening day problems which cost them 20 hours, and two hours, respectively.
As far back as 1996, Peterhansel scored his first victory in the rally on two wheels. Content with today’s third-fastest time, he knows the terrain almost as well as Sam Sunderland, who lived in the UAE for 10 years and is the new overall bikes leader.
While defending champion Matthias Walkner won the Al-Futtaim Toyota stage on a KTM, Sunderland’s second-fastest time on his GasGas gave him a big push toward a third Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge title, with two more desert stages remaining.
He has an overall advantage of 4:24 from Walkner, with Argentina’s overnight leader, Kevin Benavides just four seconds further behind in third place.
“It was another good day for me,” Sunderland said. “Really hot out there. Also it was very windy and therefore hard to see the lines.”
Emirati rider Abdulaziz Ahli continues to dominate in the quads on his Yamaha Raptor. The defending champion ended the day holding a massive cushion of 1:36:59 over Slovakia’s Juraj Varga.
With fierce competition among the lightweight cars, Francisco Lopez Contardo suffered a mechanical problem at the start of the stage. The Chilean’s lead in a Can-AM Maverick was dramatically cut to 1:26 from Spain’s Cristina Gutierrez in an Overdrive OT3.
In the T4 battle, Poland’s Marek Goczal in a Can-AM Maverick XRS leads by 4:12 from last year’s world champion and Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge title winner, American Austin Jones.
Peterhansel leads Saudi’s Al-Rajhi in dramatic opening day at Abu Dhabi Desert ChallengeSelfless Kevin Benavides’ heroism on day two of Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
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