TAL MUREEB // The BMW X-raid driver Guerlain Chicherit and Spanish rider Marc Coma controlled proceedings at the end of a punishing 296.75-km desert loop stage of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, around the Tal Mureeb bivouac. But despite his prominence, Chicherit was one of many participants who suffered problems.
He extended his overall lead in the car category to 50mins 28secs over the UAE's Yayha Al-Helai in a Nissan Patrol. The Emirati lost around eight minutes stuck in the sand dunes within sight of the stage finish. "The first 210 kms were very good, but then the engine put itself into security mode and we had the alarm," said Chicherit. "I stopped a couple of times. It was a very hard stage and I am so glad to be here and still leading the rally. It's great experience for me to be opening the road. It doesn't happen very often. I am in a good position after two days and need to keep it going."
Meanwhile, Coma passed four-time champion Cyril Despres to hold an unofficial lead of 1min 25secs in the motorcycle section at the end of the second of five legs of this opening round of both the 2009 FIM Cross-Country World Championship and FIA World Cup. "Today was the first day in the big dunes and the real desert," said Coma. "I am glad to be here with no real problems and we can see tomorrow where we lie and what we will do."
The revelation of the day was South African rider Sean Gaugain who won the stage outright to move up from eighth to fourth overall in the bike race, and he also now leads the 450cc class. He was delighted with his maiden stage win at this level, saying: "I did not expect to win and I will enjoy the moment. I pushed hard at the start and relaxed a little in the middle and had a couple of small crashes. But it was not easy and I am now looking forward to leading the way into the next stage."
The UAE's Obaid Echtibi topped the quad section on the day, but British rider James West crashed out of the stage lead after the first checkpoint and sustained a fractured right femur. The treacherous soft sand and high temperatures played havoc with entrants lower down the field and numerous drivers and riders lost time in the sand bowls, while negotiating the notorious dunes. Low-lying fog was prevalent at the start of the second loop stage and the action was delayed for 75 minutes on safety grounds.
Despres planned to push from the outset to try and extend his overall lead over Coma, but it is never easy to extend an advantage from the front and the Spaniard was 1min 39secs quicker than his French rival at the first passage control (PC) to take a virtual overall lead. West and Gaugain were the early front-runners, as the stage meandered through the treacherous sand dunes and along the narrow, winding Bedouin trails that make the loop stages of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge so demanding.
But West fell shortly after the opening PC and broke his right leg. Despres duly reduced Coma's virtual stage lead to 1min 20secs, although Gaugain was the fastest rider on the stage through the third checkpoint at 160km and maintained a sensational pace through the closing kilometres to record a memorable stage win. Buggy driver Glenn Reid returned to the bivouac with clutch master cylinder problems, but Chicherit eventually reached the stage finish well clear of last year's runner-up, Al-Helai.
The solitary Italian Iveco truck, crewed by Marco Dono, Graciano Pelanconi and A. Bettiga, began the day in 15th position the road, but was badly delayed between the first and second passage controls and eventually held 12th place on the stage through PC2. The UAE quad rider Mohammed Al Shamsi, who crashed out yesterday, sustained four broken vertebrae and a fractured rib, butthere is no neurological damage and he is expected to make a full recovery.