Emirati Khalifa Al-Mutaiwei and Joan Barreda-Bort from Spain hold the overall lead in the car and bike categories respectively, after Leg 2 of the 2012 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge saw competitors head deep into the towering dunes of the Empty Quarter desert. And for the many South American competitors taking part this year, the experience is proving to be a real eye-opener.
The 434 kilometre-long ADNOC stage is named after the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, which has played such a crucial role in the development of the Desert Challenge and motorsport in the UAE over the past 20 years, and saw the world-class field of drivers and riders tackle some of the toughest terrain on the planet.
Al-Mutaiwei registered a 7m 46s stage win over the race leader Jean-Louis Schlesser, to close the overall gap to just under 25 minutes. Schlesser’s French compatriot, Patrick Sireyjol took third place on the stage, ahead of Yahya Bel Helei and Nabil Al Shamsi in their Nissans. The two UAE nationals sit in 3rd and 5th place respectively in the overall table, and are looking strong for the rest of the rally.
“Everything is going according to plan,” said Al-Mutaiwei. “This stage was better suited to my car and we managed to get some time back on Schlesser’s Buggy. There is still a long way to go, but we are in a good position and also need to be careful not to make a mistake.”
With Spanish sport currently on a global high, it should come as no surprise that the top three riders in the bike category hail from the Hispanic country. After Leg 2, Joan Barreda-Bort and his Husqvarna holds the overall race lead, ahead of reigning champion Marc Coma and fellow KTM rider Jordi Villadoms. In a strange twist, the next three positions are held by riders from neighbouring Portugal, including current FIM World Champion Helder Rodrigues in fourth.
On a Middle East level, Leg 2 was notable for the third place finish of James West. Riding a Honda CRF 450 X, the experienced Dubai racer finished the leg behind Ruben Faria and Jordi Villadoms, and will be looking to improve further in the overall rankings tomorrow, and make up for an early finish in 2011.
At the top of the quads, Emirati national Obaid Al Kitbe retains the overall lead despite being beaten into second place on Leg 2 by close rival Sebastian Husseini, also from the UAE. Al Kitbe’s strong performance on day one was enough to ensure he still holds a 22 minute advantage over Husseini. Atif Al Zaroni took third place on the day, to complete the UAE’s clean sweep of the podium places.
Reinforcing its reputation as on the world’s leading rallies, and marking a new development for the race, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge has this year attracted significant numbers of racers from South America. Entrants from Brazil, Venezuala, Bolivia, Uruguay and Chile have flown from the other side of the world, attracted by the rally’s reputation for being extremely technically demanding, and by Abu Dhabi’s status as a destination that mixes stunning scenery with the very best hospitality.
Juan Carlos Salvatierra from Bolivia currently sits in 20th place in the bike category after Leg 2 of his Desert Challenge debut. “The second stage was very different from day one, very physically demanding, but it went well and I had no crashes or problems,” he said, after arriving back at the bivouac. “The routes are harder than I expected. I prepared for sand, but I didn’t anticipate it to be quite like this. This has been the best experience for me, with top level organisation, and the top riders here.”
Luis Henderson was making his second appearance in the Desert Challenge until electrical problems with his quad led to an early end on day one. “I’ve done the Dakar Rally three times, but the dunes here are even more challenging, and for quads they are perfect,” said the Uruguayan. “For me, the sun and the sand dunes are the very essence of this country, which is why I love it so much here.”
Part of the three-man Venezuelan Rally Team, Gustavo Querales also failed to finish Leg 1, but for different reasons. The 47 year old dentist from Caracas broke a thumb after hitting a small dune at high speed and crashing his Yamaha bike. “This was my first time in the Desert Challenge, and it was really fast, very difficult, with wave after wave of dunes,” he said. “I came because I wanted to test myself in conditions different to back home. I’d also heard that this rally is spectacular, and it really is.
Over five exhausting days that will push them to their physical and mental limits, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge competitors will tackle some of the toughest terrain on the planet – the massive sand dunes of the Empty Quarter desert of the Western Region. The successful participants will cross the finishing line in Abu Dhabi on Friday, 6th April.