Four of Overdrive Racing’s five Toyota Hiluxes finished the gruelling five-desert stage Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, round two of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, with the leading three cars reaching the end in seventh, ninth and 12th positions on Thursday.
The Russian pairing of Leonid Ogorodnikov and Anton Nikolaev led the way in their Toyota in seventh position after setting the sixth quickest time through the final selective section. The Russian team duly mastered the dunes of the Empty Quarter and gained valuable experience.
Poland’s Martin Kaczmarski and Bartlomiej Boba were classified eighth overall through the final selective section in their Lotto Team Toyota and the talented young Polish rookie reached the finish at the Yas Marina circuit in ninth overall.
The Venezuelan duo of Nunzio Coffaro and Daniel Meneses ran with support from Venezuelan Tourism, the Ministry of Sport and PDVSA but lost out on 11th overall after being delayed with gearbox problems before the second passage control in the final stage. They eventually reached the stage finish three hours behind the day’s winner and finished 12th overall.
Vladimir Sherman and Sergey Lebedev rounded off the Overdrive finishers at the rear of the field. The team had a trying event after a big impact on the first stage, but persevered and stopped to help team-mates Coffaro and Meneses on the last stage.
Spaniard Joan Roma sealed outright victory in the event for the first time by the margin of 26min 58sec from French runner-up Jean-Louis Schlesser. Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke was third.
Lucio Alvarez and Ronnie Graue started the event in the fifth Toyota Motorsport South Africa-supplied car that had been used by Giniel de Villiers to finish second in January’s Dakar Rally. The Argentineans claimed the quickest time on the shortened opening selective section, but they had flipped and damaged the Toyota in the process and were not permitted to start the second stage on safety grounds.
“It was great to be back in UAE after three years absence,” said Overdrive team manager Jean-Marc Fortin. “Lucio’s accident on the first day was really a pity, as I believe that he had the pace to fight at the front. Leonid and Anton drove a great race and were consistent and brought the Hilux home every day.
“Martin and Bartlomiej really impressed me on their first cross-country race and I think they will continue to improve in Qatar. Nunzio recovered well after his big crash on day one and it is unfortunate that he had gearbox problems today after such a strong fight back.”
Overdrive Racing received extensive support from Dubai’s Al-Futtaim Auto Centres during preparations for the event and Hertz provided their fleet of Toyota Assistance vehicles.
The Overdrive Racing quintet finished fifth, seventh, eighth, 10th and 26th in the timed super special stage that began proceedings in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. Rookie Kaczmarksi led the way for the Toyota team.
The opening stage from Abu Dhabi to Qasr Al-Arab was delayed and shortened because of a violent sand storm, which made it impossible for race officials to launch the safety helicopters.
The stage was cancelled for the motorcycle and quad competitors, but Alvarez set the fastest time amongst the cars and moved the Overdrive Racing team into an overall lead of 3min 17sec. Kaczmarski slipped to eighth and Ogorodnikov, Coffaro and Sherman held 14th, 32nd and 44th positions. But the Argentinean had also rolled his car 2km from the finish of the special stage and the damage sustained meant that he was unable to continue on the 250.43km second selective section through the Rub Al-Khali on Tuesday.
The surviving Overdrive quartet finished the second selective in ninth, 11th, 15th and ?? positions and this meant that Ogorodnikov climbed to eighth in the overall standings, Kaczmarski was 11th and Coffaro rose to 15th. Sherman was 44th. Spaniard Joan Roma led the event outright from Brazilian Guillerme Spinelli.
The third 284.98km loop wound its way through the Rub Al-Khali around the Qasr Al-Sarab bivouac and Schlesser set the quickest time. Coffaro topped the Overdrive Racing quartet in sixth position and Ogorodnikov and Kaczmarksi finished in eighth and 13th. The trio returned to the overnight halt in eighth, 11th and 12th places, with the Russian leading the way from the Pole. Roma continued to lead overall and Sherman slipped to 45th.
The penultimate loop through the Western Desert included a competitive section of 266.07km and Coffaro was the best of the four Overdrive entrants in seventh position. Ogorodnikov and Kaczmarski finished 12th and 13th.
Ogorodnikov, Coffaro and Kaczmarski duly began Thursday’s fifth and final 296.30km selective section between Qasr Al-Sarab and Al-Dafra from eighth, 11th and 12th overall. Sherman was 42nd overall.
Roma held on to take his maiden win on the event, Schlesser set the fastest time and Ogorodnikov and Kaczmarski were classified in sixth and eighth through the stage, but Coffaro was delayed.
The team continues its Middle East adventure in 10 days time where they will be entering four Hiluxes in Qatar’s Sealine Cross-Country Rally.