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
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