ABU DHABI // Stephane Peterhansel of France yesterday wrapped up a record-breaking seventh Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge win, securing his place as the world-class rally's most decorated champion.
After engaging in a battle for the lead with Russia's Leonid Novitskiy, the current world champion and Peterhansel's BMW X3 driving Team X-Raid colleague, the Frenchman piloted his Mini All4 Racing car home in an overall time of 20hrs, 33mins, 58secs.
Having previously won the event twice in the bikes category, Peterhansel expressed his satisfaction at finishing the 1,570-kilometre event and clinching a fourth consecutive Desert Challenge win, his fifth overall in the cars category.
"Our first target was to win and our second target was to test the Mini on the dunes," he said.
"We achieved them both, so it's not bad at all.
"This is my first victory with Team X-Raid, so it was very nice."
Close behind the X-Raid pair was the veteran Jean-Louis Schlesser, of France, in his Schlesser Original buggy.
Peterhansel praised the other two podium finishers.
"It was a nice fight between Leonid and me, but also Jean-Louis Schlesser was good," he said. "I want to say thank you to Leonid. On the second day I was completely stuck for a long time and he stopped to help me."
Marc Coma, the reigning world champion, reinforced his two-wheeled superiority as the Spaniard clinched a third consecutive bikes category competition.
He added the Desert Challenge title to the opening round of the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship and the second round of the FIA.
"It feels really special to take my fifth win here," Coma said.
"It's never easy, especially this year, when there have been some very good riders.
"I like this rally and I like the people who are involved. We know the desert is really special.
"The conditions are always hard, with big dunes and soft sand, but it really is fantastic."
There was disappointing blow for UAE rally fans when Britain's Nicholas Black clinched the overall quads victory after title favourites Mohammed al Shamsi and Atif al Zarouni both retired from Leg 5 with mechanical problems.
With the Emirati entrants out of the running, the field was left clear for Italy's Camelia Liparoti to take second place on her Yamaha Raptor.
The finish was the best yet at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge for the female rider.
Russian Honda rider Dimitry Pavlov rounded off the top three.