Nasser Al Attiyah surged into an early lead in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Sunday through the giant dunes and plains of the UAE’s Western Region of Al Gharbia.
Partnered by Frenchman Mathieu Baumel in a brand new Toyota Hilux, Al-Attiyah won the 278km Yas Marina Circuit Stage in impressive style to take a 2 mins 18 secs lead from Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi and German co-driver Timo Gotschalk in a Mini All4Racing.
Al Attiyah clearly enjoyed his perfect start to the Desert Challenge, his technical disqualification 12 months ago long forgotten as he set out to become the first Arab driver to win the event since his own victory back in 2008.
Outpacing a trio of Minis, the car which has dominated the rally in recent years, he reached the end of the stage to say simply: “It was very good day and I’m pleased to show people that the performance of the Toyota is very good.”
Poland’s Jakub Przygonski and Belgian Tom Colsoul also in a Mini were 1 min 33 secs further away in third, with Russian Vladimir Vasilyev, the cars winner for the last two years, another 1mins 26secs behind.
Poland’s Marek Dabrowski in a Toyota Hilux and American Bryce Menzies, another Desert Challenge newcomer in a Mini, completed the top six. Finn Mikko Hirvonen, the four-times World Rally Championship runner-up, finished the leg in seventh place in a Mini.
In the battle of the bikes, Australian rider Toby Price, this year’s Dakar Rally winner, took the stage to lead by 35 seconds from his KTM team-mate, Dubai-based Sam Sunderland.
Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla is another 34 seconds away in third on his Husqvarna, with Portuguese riders Helder Rodrigues and Jakub Piatek followed by Spain’s Txomin Arana Cobeaga completing the top six.
Top Emirati rider Mohammed Al Balooshi finished the leg in seventh place, one place ahead of veteran Dubai-based Dave McBride, with Spanish lady rider Laia Sanz in ninth on her Desert Challenge debut.
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