Czech driver Martin Prokop and Chilean rider Pablo Quintanilla were the big winners on Monday as the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge powered by Nissan served up a potent reminder of how difficult it is to find a path to victory in this event.
Partnered by David Pabiska in a Ford F-150 Evo, Prokop won the spectacular 287km Nissan Stage 2 to grab an advantage of 10mins 30.2secs from Poland’s Jakub Przygonski as the overnight cars leader fell to second place in his Mini John Cooper.
The UAE’s Khalid Al Qassimi and French co-driver Xavier Panseri still retained hopes of a second successive Desert Challenge win after finishing the day in third place, 1min 24secs further behind in his Peugeot Abu Dhabi Racing Team 3008 DKR.
Prokop made it clear that this had been anything but a trouble free day. “We had a tough two thirds of the stage and PC3 was full of soft sand and big drops,” he said.
“We caught up with Al Qassimi and rode alongside with him for two hours, but I think we came off line a little. We crashed into a dune near the end.”
On a day when the heat and soft sand of the desert dunes made it a particularly tough stage for the riders, Quintanilla set the fastest time on his Husqvarna to take a lead of 1mins 8secs from the KTM of Dubai-based defending champion Sam Sunderland.
But with Argentinian Kevin Benavides on a Honda and Austria’s reigning Dakar Rally champion Matthias Walkner on a KTM both in hot pursuit, just 2mins 39secs separates the leading four riders.
Portugal’s Paulo Goncalves, the 2014 Desert Challenge champion, and American Ricky Brabec on a Honda completed the top six, but Australia’s overnight leader and 2016 winner Toby Price plunged out of the reckoning because of a shattered fuel pump.
Top Emirati rider Mohammed Al Balooshi, recent winner of the Dubai International Baja, held on to his top 10 place among world-class competition with another good performance.
“It was a really good stage today,” Quintanilla said. “I started fifth so it was a good opportunity to catch some time on the guys ahead, but some big dunes and soft sand made it hard to maneuver.”
On the other hand, it was less than smooth sailing for Sunderland, his main rival.
“I had a difficult day today,” the Dubai-based rider said. “A lot of the track was off piste and the sun was pretty high and I reckon I lost time today.
“I managed to catch Toby (Price) early on and we rode together. It was an extremely hot and long day.”
Provisional leading positions after Nissan Stage 2
1. Martin Prokop / David Pabiska (CZE / CZE) / Ford F-150 Evo 7:19:06.9
2. Jakub Przygonski / Tom Colsoul (POL / BEL) / Mini John Cooper 7:29:37.1
3. Khalid Al Qassimi / Xavier Panseri (ARE /FRA) / Peugeot 3008 DKR 7:31:01.1
4. Yasir Seaidan / Aleksei Kuzmich (KSA / RUS) / Toyota Hilux Overdrive 7:34:31.8
5. Cyril Despres / Steve Ravussin (FRA / CHE) Buggy Ford 2WD 7:38:23.5
6. Vladimir Vasilyev / K,Zhiltsov (RUS / RUS) / Mini Cooper Countryman 8:00:55.5
7. Yahya Al Helei / Khalid Alkendi (ARE / ARE) / Nissan Pick Up 8:36:47.8
8. Stephan Schott / Paulo Fiuza (DEU / POR) / Mini John Cooper 8:51:56.7
9. Eugenio Amos / Filipe Palmeiro (ITA / POR) / Mini All4 Racing 9:02:43.2
10. Terence Marsh / Riaan Greyling (ZAF / ZAF) / Nissan Navara 9:07:17.6
1. Pablo Quintanilla (CHL) / Husqvarna 450 7:04:19
2. Sam Sunderland (ARE) / KTM 450 7:05:27
3. Kevin Benavides (ARG) / Honda CRF 450 7:06:14
4. Matthias Walkner (AUT) / KTM 450 7:06:58
5. Paulo Goncalves (POR) / Honda CRF 450 7:17:44
6. Ricky Brabec (USA) / Honda CRF 450 7:18:29
7. Jose Ignacio Cornejo F (CHL) / Honda CRF 450 7:27:10
8. Toby Price (AUS) / KTM 450 7:31:01
9. Michael Metge (FRA) / Honda CRF 450 7:33:28
10. Mohammed Al Balooshi (ARE) / KTM 450 7:34:57
Hamilton was in control of Sunday’s race until Romain Grosjean’s Haas stopped on the track and officials imposed a Virtual Safety Car (VSC), which restricts the pace of the cars on track.
The VSC caused the field to slow while Vettel, who was leading courtesy of Hamilton’s earlier stop, was able to dive into the pits for fresh tyres and lose less time than under normal race conditions.
It meant Vettel emerged from the pits marginally in front of a startled Hamilton and held on to his advantage to the chequered flag for his third Australian GP victory.
“What just happened guys?” Hamilton queried his Mercedes team over radio during the race. “Why didn’t you tell me Vettel was in the pits?
“We thought we were safe, but there’s obviously something wrong,” the team replied.
“Did I do anything wrong? Should I have gone faster?” Hamilton pressed further.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said an investigation would be needed to find out what happened.
Overall, this weekend has been positive. Congrats to Seb and the guys in red, today they did the better job and we go back to the drawing board. We still have great pace and are looking forward to putting all of the learnings to the test in Bahrain #AusGP #F1 @MercedesAMGF1 pic.twitter.com/B2KPiQvYW3
Overall, this weekend has been positive. Congrats to Seb and the guys in red, today they did the better job and we go back to the drawing board. We still have great pace and are looking forward to putting all of the learnings to the test in Bahrain #AusGP #F1 @MercedesAMGF1 pic.twitter.com/B2KPiQvYW3— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) March 25, 2018
“It’s very hard to take because we had the pace. For whatever reason, we need to find out, we lost the win,” Wolff told Sky F1.
“We thought we had about three seconds margin. I don’t know what happened to them, we need to ask the computers and that’s what we are doing.
Whether we had a software problem somewhere, we need to fix it.
“I think the problem is within our systems. I think we have a bug somewhere that said 15 seconds is what you need, we had 12, it should have been enough but it wasn’t.”
Wolff said the lack of overtaking opportunities on the Albert Park street circuit also contributed to the galling defeat.
“Lewis was attacking flat out but you can see the overtaking is pretty bad here,” he said.
“Even the mega overtakers couldn’t make a pass. Lewis had to give up because the tyres wouldn’t have made it to the end.”
Mercedes’ former world champion Nico Rosberg said he was staggered by the team’s software problems.
“It’s unbelievable that Mercedes had a software glitch of five seconds. Five seconds is the world out there in F1. It’s a huge one and it cost them the win,” he
“It’s only the first race and Mercedes had awesome pace out there. Lewis, when he was pushing, he was fast. I don’t think it’s time to worry yet for Mercedes.”
Daman Speed Academy (DSA) drivers Hamda Al Qubaisi (Senior class) and Ali Al Shamsi (Junior class) showed a great performance at Yas Marina Circui, ending the day inside the top five in Abu Dhabi. Team-mate Saeed Al Ali (Shifter Class) was one lap away from securing his second victory this season.
Al Qubaisi was delighted with the team’s showing and said: “I had a great race in Yas Marina Circuit, I started off really well with a decent qualifying position (P4), and for the heat, I managed to get into P2… my kart felt really good.”
“I had the speed to end the pre-final race inside the top 3 but I faced few challenges towards the end of the race and I ended up in P5. For the final race, I had a good start made it up to P4 in the first lap but my kart did not feel the same and my speed dropped down, I was half a second slower than I was in the previous races but I managed to finish fifth and I think that’s a good result for the final.
“I’m looking forward now the final round at RAK Track and hopefully will end the season on the podium.”
In the Junior class, which comprised of a total of 13 drivers, Al Shamsi finished his final race in fourth overall.
Launched in 2015, the X30 Challenge UAE is the newest kart racing series in the region. The X30 Challenge is a race series aimed at drivers who wish to take the next step from rental karting. Using professional racing karts powered by IAME X30 racing engines, the X30 Challenge series offers winners from all seven categories the opportunity to compete at the X30 International Final.