Russian Vladimir Vasilyev grabbed a slender lead in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Powered today after defending drivers’ champion Nani Roma of Spain plunged from contention following a bout of motion sickness.
Partnered by Konstantin Zhilstov in a Mini, Vasilyev was fastest on the 269-km ADNOC Special Stage 2 and completed it holding a 44 seconds advantage over the Polish crew of Marek Dabrowski and Jacek Czachor in a Toyota Hilux.
Overnight leader Roma, with French co-driver Michel Perin, saw his hopes of back-to-back wins disappear when he fell ill early in the stage, requiring medical attention before continuing and ending the day almost three hours off the pace in his Mini.
In the battle of the bikes, Spain’s Marc Coma snatched the lead from his new KTM team-mate, Sam Sunderland, finishing the stage with an advantage of 1 minute 25 secs from the Dubai-based English rider.
Lying third in the cars category at the end of the leg was Poland’s Adam Malysz in a Toyota Hilux, with Czech driver Miroslav Zapletal fourth in a Hummer followed by the UAE’s Yahya Al Helei who was third fastest on the day in his new Nissan Pick Up.
Vasilyev, who is attempting to become the second Russian driver to find victory in the Desert Challenge following Leonid Novitskiy in 2010, said at the end of the stage: “It was really ok today, despite the dunes being difficult with so many drops that we had to go slower.”
The Minis of Vasilyev and reigning Dakar Rally champion Roma are among six prepared by the powerful X-raid team.
Bitterly disappointed at the end of the leg, Roma said: “It wasn't a good day for me. I just started to get sick from the motion of the dunes before the first passage control and had to stop and get some medical assistance. The doctor gave me a few pills, then I was ok.
“I have this problem in the Desert Challenge a lot, and at least the rally raid team is still in a good position. I will just keep on going for the last three legs.”
Living up to his reputation as a top-class desert rally driver who can compete with the best in the world, Emirati Alhelei said: “I drove hard today passing seven or so cars, but I hit a ridge hard so my suspension is not good and after that I had to drive slower.
“This year it is not our rally. The sand is just too hard for us because of the rain. If it was soft we would have a better chance. You can even drive with 2wd out there. Our springs are too soft for the sand. Maybe if we had harder springs we would have a better chance.”
Seven-times Desert Challenge bikes winner Coma rode alongside Sunderland for much of the stage before moving away from him, while reigning FIM world champion Paulo Goncalves from Portugal was left almost three minutes further adrift.
Coma said: “It was another good day today. Myself and Sam rode together again. They were very tough conditions for sure. There’s still another three days to go so we need to stay on top and sharp.”
Sunderland, who finished third last year, commented: “It was my job to open the piste today and I did that well until the first passage control. Then I missed a hop and I hurt my wrist a little bit after that, but it was ok. Marc took over at the refuel and passed me at the finish. I’m feeling mentally very tired right now but overall it was another good day.”
Reigning FIM world champion Rafal Sonik of Poland who leads the quads category said: “It was very tricky today. The desert showed how unpredictable it can be. You have a series of regular dunes and then irregular ones with drops. You think it is easy but it is not.”
Polish rider Jakub Przygonski crashed 190kms into the stage, injuring his back and breaking his right upper arm. He was taken by helicopter to Madinat Zayed Hospital where he was assessed by doctors and found to be stable.
PROVISIONAL POSITIONS AFTER SPECIAL STAGE TWO
1. Vladimir Vasilyev / K. Zhilstov (RUS /RUS) MINI All 4 Racing T1 7:32.12
2. Marek Dabrowski / Jacek Czachor (POL / POL) Toyota Hilux T1 7:32.56
3. Adam Malysz / Rafal Marton (POL / POL) Toyota Hilux T1 7:53.34
4. Miroslav Zapletal / Maciej Marton (CZE / POL) Hummer H3 T1 8:00.03
5. Yahya Alhelei / Khalid Alkendi (ARE / ARE) Nissan Pick UP T1 8:09.20
6. Stephan Schott / A. Schulz (DEU / DEU) MINI All 4 Racing T1 8:29.59
7. Anton Grigorov / Konstatin Meshcheryakov (RUS / RUS) T1 8:59.00
8. Denis Berezovskiy / Ignat Falkov (KAZ / KAZ) T2 9:02.09
9. Erik Van Loon / W. Rosegaar (NED / NED) MINI All 4 Racing T1 9:04.14
10. Bauyrzhan Issabayev / Vladimir Demyanenko (KAZ/ RUS) T1 9:11.28
1. Marc Coma (SPA) KTM 450 Rally Replica 7:08.29
2. Sam Sunderland (GBR) KTM 450 Rally Replica 7:09.54
3. Paulo Goncalves (POR) Honda 450 CRF Rally 7:12.45
4. Joan Barreda Bort (SPA) Honda 450 CRF Rally 7:20.37
5. Jordi Vladoms (SPA) KTM 450 Rally Replica 7:33.38
6. Miran Stanovnik (SLO) KTM 450 Rally Replica 8:11.15
7. Mohammed Al Balooshi (UAE) KTM 450 Rally Replica 8:19.04
8. Aleksei Nikishkin (RUS) 8:33.15
9. Santosh CS (IND) 8:34.11
9. Jakub Piatek (POL) KTM 450 Rally Replica 8:40.17
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