Russian driver Vladimir Vasilyev extended his lead in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on Tuesday while Dubai-based English rider Sam Sunderland regained the advantage in a fascinating bikes battle.
Partnered by Konstantin Zhilstov in a Mini, Vasilyev won the 256-km Qasr Al Sarab Special Stage 3 to stretch his advantage from 44 seconds overnight to 9 mins 48 secs from the Polish crew of Marek Dabrowski and Jacek Czachor in a Toyota Hilux.
Positioned in third more than 16 minutes further adrift was Poland’s Adam Malysz in another Toyota Hilux, with Czech driver Miroslav Zapletal in a Hummer, the UAE’s Yahya Alhelei in a Nissan Pick Up, and German Stephan Schott in a Mini completing the top six.
With two more stages remaining, only 52 seconds separate the top three riders. Sunderland now leads the bikes category by 30 seconds from KTM team-mate and seven-times winner, Marc Coma of Spain, with Portugal’s reigning FIM world champion, Paulo Goncalves, breathing down their necks.
Goncalves was second fastest on the day behind Honda team-mate Joan Barreda Bort who finished the stage in fourth place overall, while the UAE’s Mohammed Al Balooshi held on to his overnight seventh position.
It was a classic day of desert rallying at its spectacular best, as the 38 surviving cars and 48 bikes and quads followed a dramatic trail through mighty dunes in the UAE’s Western Region of Al Garbia.
Vasilyev reached the end of a breathtaking stage to say: “At the beginning and the end the stage was very difficult, especially in cars as the dunes were so steep and there were some very big drops in the last three kilometres.”
Dabrowski said: “I got dug in twice today. I don’t know why, but I lost concentration. It is a very tough race for our team and it is not easy to push all the time. After getting stuck I decided to push less.”
Alhelei, looking to add to his impressive list of finishes in an event he has contested each year since its launch in 1991, said: “I lost five or six minutes with a puncture which happened on landing after a big drop. The wheel was difficult to change in the soft sand, but it was a good day. I’m enjoying the car and the rally.”
Sunderland (in action below), who is making his debut with the KTM team, said: “I caught Marc (Coma) after about 80km and then made the pace up until refuel. Then the Honda guys caught us towards the end so we just chilled a bit and let them make the pace.”
Coma, the reigning Dakar Rally champion, commented: “Today I started first and I knew I would lose time. I went over a big jump at the start which left me a bit sore but I'm ok. The bike is going really well and everything is good.”
Stage winner Barreda Bort said: “It was good today, I’m really happy. I pushed hard in the early part to catch Paulo and then pushed to catch the KTM riders.”
Goncalves said: “Me and Barreda finally caught the two KTM guys. Now we have two stages to go and we are really confident. We are very happy with the new bikes in the desert and are not too far behind the leaders overall. But we will have to ride very fast to catch them at the end.”
Carrying the flag for the UAE in the bikes category, Al Balooshi said: “Today was the best day for me so far. It was very fast and tricky, the way I like it, and I finally found my rhythm. Even though I had good times the last two days I really felt that I was riding my bike perfectly today.
“It's thanks to my whole team and sponsors that I'm here, and I'm really looking forward to finishing the challenge in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. It's a shame that I'm the only Emirati riding in the rally this week, but I'm riding for my country today and I'm very happy overall.”
Poland’s reigning world champion Rafal Sonik now leads the quads category by 34 minutes from Russian rider Sergey Karyakin, with last year’s winner, Qatari Mohammed Abu Isa, in third place.
Sonik said: “Today I saw one of the helicopters and its rotors were not moving, and so I was very peaceful. It meant that there were no incidents and they had nothing to do which is good news. As far as the stage goes it was the nicest for so far.”
STANDINGS AFTER QASR AL SARAB SPECIAL STAGE 3
1. Vladimir Vasilyev / K. Zhilstov (RUS /RUS) MINI All 4 Racing T1 10:58.10
2. Marek Dabrowski / Jacek Czachor (POL / POL) Toyota Hilux T1 11:07.58
3. Adam Malysz / Rafal Marton (POL / POL) Toyota Hilux T1 11:24.44
4. Miroslav Zapletal / Maciej Marton (CZE / POL) Hummer H3 T1 11:43.04
5. Yahya Alhelei / Khalid Alkendi (ARE / ARE) Nissan Pick UP T1 11:49.26
6. Stephan Schott / A. Schulz (DEU / DEU) MINI All 4 Racing T1 12:07.11
7. Erik Van Loon / W. Rosegaar (NED / NED) MINI All 4 Racing T1 12:49.35
8. Anton Grigorov / Konstatin Meshcheryakov (RUS / RUS) T1 12:53.20
9. Bauyrzhan Issabayev / Vladimir Demyanenko (KAZ/ RUS) T1 13:04.21
10. Kanat Shagirov / Alexandr Moroz (KAZ / KAZ) Toyota Hilux T1.1 13:40.46
1. Sam Sunderland (GBR) KTM 450 Rally Replica 10:33.00
2. Marc Coma (SPA) KTM 450 Rally Replica 10:33.30
3. Paulo Goncalves (POR) Honda 450 CRF Rally 10:33.52
4. Joan Barreda Bort (SPA) Honda 450 CRF Rally 10:40.39
5. Jordi Viladoms (SPA) KTM 450 Rally Replica 11:04.19
6. Miran Stanovnik (SLO) KTM 450 Rally Replica 11:53.41
7. Mohammed Al Balooshi (UAE) KTM 450 Rally Replica 11:59.39
8. Aleksei Nikishkin (RUS) 12:21.50
9. Helder Rodrigues (POR) Honda CRF 450 12:29.02
10. Kristian Karcher (DEU) Yamaha 450 WR F 12:31.30
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