Nasser Al Attiyah competes during the special stage of Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on Monday.
Gulf Today, Staff Reporter
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge most usually lives up to its reputation as one of the world’s most challenging and visually spectacular rallies, and on an opening day starting in Ghiyathi City with the finish line in Liwa, near Tal Mor’eb, competitors tackled a total distance of 404 kilometres including a special stage of 242 kilometres.
There were contrasting fortunes for some of the sports’ biggest names, while several local heroes stepped into the spotlight, leveraging their knowledge and experience of the desert to great effect.
Nasser Mohammed Al Mansouri, Under Secretary of the Ruler’s Representative Court in Al Dhafra Region, said: “We are very pleased to be hosting the 2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in Al Dhafrah Region, and for the first time starting from Ghiyathi City to finish in Liwa, near Tal Mor’eb.
It’s a spectacular part of the world, and today it plays host to some of the world’s best drivers and riders as they take on the ultimate challenge of traversing some of the most extreme desert landscape in the world. My humble thanks to all involved for creating a sporting spectacle that will thrill sports lovers around the world.”
On his second time as a participant, nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastian Loeb offered some insight into what the days ahead are really like for drivers: “One of the main challenges is judging the height of the dunes and the speed of your approach as you head towards the crest. Compared to the challenges of racing on wet and muddy roads, in soft sand you never totally lose the car because they don’t spin. But of course the desert presents other serious challenges.” Loeb stopped at PK38, and was unable to restart his car.
After being picked up by his engineers, he will take a penalty, and start again tomorrow in an attempt to minimise the damage.
Emirates Motor Sports Organisation (EMSO) President and board member, Khalid Ben Sulayem, commented: “The Ghiyathi City to Liwa stage, provided some dramatic moments. We were sad to see championship leader Sebastian Loeb having technical problems, but this is the nature of extreme challenges.
The towering dunes and shifting sands of the region are truly spectacular to look at, but as difficult as they are beautiful. Supporting these extraordinary athletes in this arduous stage are the search and rescue services, and energy supplier ADNOC Distribution, without whom none of this would be possible.”
Amongst the riders, there was no change in the race lead with Quintanilla and Van Beveren (Monster Energy Honda) winning the stage ahead of Ross Branch (Hero MotoSports). The riders who led the stage were the fastest during the Prologue, with their strategy of starting from 11th to 8th place paying off, for the moment at least.
The situation with the T1 cars saw non-championship driver Henk Lategan benefitting from Prodrive’s misfortunes with a third place. Nasser Al Attiyah won the day’s special stage, increasing his lead at the end by more than six minutes ahead of Yazeed Al Rajhi who took the second place. It was a 100% Toyota podium, and now Nasser is ahead of his main rivals, Loeb and Chicherit, in the World Championship. Chicherit has since decided to retire from the rally.
Stage 1, the Ruler’s Representative Court Al Dhafrah Region, will perhaps be seen as a turning point of W2RC season 2. Not for the bikes, where the plans of the fastest drivers in the Prologue went perfectly. It was just the opposite for the cars. In leaving the stage, Loeb loses any chance of winning the race and is now aiming to getback into a pattern he knows only too well.
The Frenchman will have to win as many daily points as possible over the next four days to counterbalance Al Attiyah’s victory. Loeb had to do the same as recently as this January when he came out of the first round beaten by Al Attiyah, but still leading on points. The race continues, the championship too, and both are still long with many twists and turns.
T1 stage winner Attiyah commented: “We pushed from the beginning without any problems, but I don’t really like my setup, so I will work on it for tomorrow. But okay, we’re doing OK, but there’s still a long way to go. We have started well, and we’ll try to keep going like this. I’m happy to come to the ADDC, a lot of dunes and really good skills from everybody.”
Monster Energy’s Pablo Quintanilla also had a satisfying day: “It was a good stage for me, I felt really good with the pace, I caught up with Adrien (van Beveren) before the refueling stop, then we went together pushing until the end and I think I got back some important minutes. The stage was tough, many climbs, drops, and we had to be very careful with the speed and which areas you were pushing in. But I felt quite good with a good rhythm.”