On a day that saw temperatures in the desert hitting around 40oc, Jean-Louis Schlesser (cars) and Marc Coma (bikes) finished on top of the overall rankings after the unique, double-stage Qasr Al Sarab Leg of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
At 63 years old, and with many decades of racing behind him, there is no doubting Schlesser’s remarkable skill at endurance racing. Over the first three days of the rally, the Frenchman has demonstrated that youth and fitness are no substitute for experience in such a testing event as the Desert Challenge.
Schlesser’s Sonangol Buggy registered a narrow 2m 07s win over the UAE’s Khalifa Al-Mutaiwei and his MINI All4 racing on today’s Qasr Al Sarab leg of the rally. This was enough to help him stretch his overall lead to 26m 43s. Ilya Kusnetsov took third place on Leg 3, while Patrick Sireyjol of France leapfrogged Emirati rally star, Yahya Bel Helei, to move into third position overall.
Speaking at the end of Leg 3, Schlesser said: “This is a very specific type of race and long stages and extreme hot weather have resulted in softer sand, making it even more difficult to drive. But the race is going really well as I am leading, and when you lead a race like this, it’s great.”
The Desert Challenge is renowned across the world as one of the world’s most difficult, technically demanding endurance rally. For this reason alone, it attracts racers from across the globe determined to conquer the towering sand dunes and rough terrain of the Western Region. And in 2012, more female competitors than ever before have entered, with the aim of proving themselves in this toughest of sporting events.
Six women started this year’s event, with competitors from Bulgaria, Germany and two from Italy joined by UAE residents Tonya Colson in the bikes and Sheila Hutton-Barker in the cars.
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.
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, whose President, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, is also the founder of the rally. It is held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Western Region and features a high-profile line-up of supporters, including the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, Nissan and ADNOC.