Matthias Walkner took full advantage of Sam Sunderland’s starting position to take the overall lead in the bikes category while Pierre Alexander Renet claimed the stage win on Monday at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
Walkner finished the 289.39km second stage of the event through the Rub Al-Khali in third place at 4hr 08min 53.0sec behind Frenchman Renet (Husqvarna 450 Rally) and Portugal’s Paulo Gonçalves (Honda 450 CRF Rally), but that was enough to give the Austrian KTM Red Bull Factory team rider sole possession of the overall lead.
Sunderland’s starting position meant that the overnight leader was hardly going to win the day’s stage and the Dakar champion ceded time to his rivals. He finished sixth in the stage and is fifth overall at 7hr 45min 57.5sec, with Walkner on 7:41.096.
There was no change in the cars category, with Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah in charge.
The Toyota driver claimed the fastest time, which meant he extended his lead over Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi to 23min 03sec heading into the night halt at Qasr Al Sarab.
“I did not know that I was leading,” said Walkner after the finish. “Saying that, tomorrow they take the gap back. Hopefully, I can finish on the podium. Tomorrow, the guys will take three or six minutes and the lead is changing again. It has been a good two days and I feel more confident riding in the dunes. I get into it and I enjoyed it.”
Dubai-based Sunderland said: “You always lose time when you start in front. I opened all the way for nearly 300km (the stage) and only Pablo (Quintanilla) and Matthias (Walkner) physically caught me. Of all the riders here, that meant it was a good day.
“This race is strange with the strategy, you know. You kind of swap times each day. Tomorrow I start back and it will be the opposite. You just have to take each day as it comes.”
Al-Attiyah began the gruelling loop stage with a cushion of 11min 35.1sec over Sheikh Khalid and the Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux driver pressed home his advantage from the front. Czech driver Martin Prokop produced another useful performance in the Jipocar Ford F-150 Evo to set the fourth quickest time behind Qatar’s Mohammed Abu Issa and the former WRC star leapt into third place in the overall rankings.
“Today was a good day for us. It was not an easy stage. It is very difficult and hard. We just need to take care. To win by a big gap and have a big lead from Al Qassimi is good,” said Al-Attiyah.
Sheikh Khalid admitted it had been a challenging day but insists the experience he is getting is invaluable.
“Today was much more difficult than yesterday. It was a bit windy and there was a lot of sand thrown up that hampered visibility and as a result we lost some time,” said the Emirati driver.
“We also had some difficulty climbing the steep dunes as the sand was very soft. We then were forced to find another line. But all in all, it was still a good day for us to finish second and hold on to our overnight position of 2nd overall. But, the goal is to continue learning and gaining experience in this format of racing.”
Poland’s Kamil Wisniewski maintained his lead in the quads from a charging group, even though the day’s stage win went to the Dutchman Kees Koolen on a Barren Racer One 690. Wisniewski now leads the class by 5min 42.8sec from Kuwait’s Fahad Al-Musallam.
On Tuesday, competitors tackle the second of three loop stages around the southern-most extremities of the UAE. The 288.73km special starts at the desert outpost of Tharwaniya off the road to Mezaira’a and winds its way through the towering dune complexes of the Rub Al-Khali to finish 19km north of Hameem.
The route passes the famed Moreeb Hill before heading south and running along the frontier with Saudi Arabia. It then returns to the bivouac for a refuelling stop for the bikes at PC1.
POSITIONS AFTER LEG 2
1. N Al-Attiyah (QAT)/M Baumel (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 7:18.377
2. K Al Qassimi (UAE)/K Al-Kendi (UAE) Peugeot 3008 DKR 7:41.408
3. M Prokop (CZE)/J Tomanek (CZE) Ford F-150 Evo 8:15.421
1. Matthias Walkner (AUT) KTM 450 Rally Factory 7:41.096
2. Paulo Gonçalves (POR) Honda 450 CRF Rally 7:41.418
3. Pierre Alexander Renet (FRA) Husqvarna 450 Rally 7:42.543
1. Kamil Wisniewski (POL) Yamaha Raptor 700R 9:56.084
2. Fahad Al-Musallam (KUW) Yamaha Raptor 700R 10:01.512
3. Rodolfo Schippers (GUA) Yamaha Raptor 700R 10:05.529
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