Abu Dhabi Racing had a busy day at the office on Stage 4 of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on Wednesday, losing over one hour while fixing a broken drive shaft.
Despite this setback, Sheikh Khalid bin Faisal Al Qassimi successfully defended his overall second place position going into the final day, as Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah extended his lead in the cars category to 1hr 46min 03sec over the Emirati driver.
Al Qassimi and co-driver Khalid Al Kendi had multiple problems on the day, first an issue with the dampener on steep bumpy slopes and then, about 120km into the stage, the drive shaft broke which needed to be replaced.
That wasn’t the end of their issues as about 70km out from the finish, the car nosedived into a gully and getting the Peugeot 3008 DKR back on track took more than half an hour more.
“Today was a very tough day,” said Al Qassimi. “When we started out it was very windy and some 60km into the stage, which was very bumpy, we noticed that the dampener was not performing well.
“We balanced our pace but when I noticed there were fewer bumps I went faster. Unfortunately, about 120km into the stage we broke our drive shaft. We had a replacement but dismantling the broken shaft and then replacing it took about 50 minutes.
“Tough day with multiple issues to deal with, but we are still P2 overall.”
Al Qassimi goes into the final day on Thursday with a cushion of 34min 05.3sec to overall third-placed Martin Prokop from the Czech Republic.
The scene is set for a dramatic showdown in the motorcycle category over the closing stage on Thursday. Victory on stage four fell to the Monster Energy Honda team rider Kevin Benavides, but the Argentinean lost his chance of taking the win with clutch issues on day three and a fascinating five-way battle is in prospect over the closing kilometres between overnight leader Paulo Gonçalves, Austrian Matthias Walkner, Pierre Alexandre Renet, Sam Sunderland and Pablo Quintanilla.
Gonçalves holds an advantage of 33.8 seconds over the Austrian, but both Sunderland and Quintanilla have favourable starting positions for the final day.
Sunderland, the reigning Dakar champion, said: “I don’t really like to race like this. The strategy and trying to see what the others guys are doing. I’d rather it just be the fastest rider won. I’ve lost this race so many years by being the fastest dude. This year I have been trying to get the strategy better. We will see how we go. I will have to ride as hard as I can to catch the time back. It may look easy on the paper but it’s far from it. You have to fight a lot and work hard.”
Leader Gonçalves was in determined mood, adding: “Today I do what I can. I catch the guys in front of me, so I am the leader overall on day four. We have a day more to race. I will to do my best. I know it is not going to be an easy start position for tomorrow. We have 220km still to go. The bike has been perfect. The stage is a little faster tomorrow than the last three days, but we also have a lot of dunes in the middle. In normal conditions the others have an advantage. We never know.”
UAE’s Mohammed Al Balooshi had not ridden this KTM in race conditions since crashing heavily in Qatar last year, but the Ride to Abu Dhabi star holds seventh place.
“Today’s stage was by far the shortest and the weather helped all the riders,” said Al Balooshi. “We don’t have navigation problems and I am happy with my performance and comfortable with the bike. It’s not an easy job. I did not ride this bike since one year ago in Sealine Rally in Qatar. One year not riding a rally bike. We have one more day and I am looking at the bigger picture even though I would love to compete with the guys. With the situation I have given myself, I am giving 100 per cent.”
Thursday’s final stage, named Abu Dhabi Aviation, will see drivers cover a distance of 234km, the shortest stage of the five-day endurance race.
Positions after Leg 4 (unofficial):
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