x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge: Silverware for car and bike winners Roma and Coma

Spaniards take the prizes as Marc Coma rides away with seventh bike triumph and Nani Roma drives to car trophy in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

Nani Roma and co-driver Michel Perin negotiate the sand dunes.
Nani Roma and co-driver Michel Perin negotiate the sand dunes.

There were tears at the finish line, last-leg heartbreak, a Spanish double and victory for Qatar as the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge came to a conclusion on Thursday.

Spain's Nani Roma clinched his first victory in the Desert Challenge to round off a dominant display in the cars category, and compatriot Marc Coma edged his way to a record seventh win in the bikes class.

Despite a third-stage win in successive days by defending champion Jean-Louis Schlesser, Roma and co-driver Michel Perin in a Mini won by 26 minutes, 58 seconds faster than the familiar blue buggy of the veteran French driver, a six-time winner of the event.

"It's always nice to win," said Roma, "And the Desert Challenge is really difficult, so it's a good feeling, but I'm also happy for the whole team.

"In this sport, you need a lot of people around you, so this victory was for everyone involved in the team.

"The first three days were really tough because I had to open the stage, so I had to go fast, but not make mistakes. After that, I could relax a little and sit on my lead.

"A lot of credit must go to Michel in the co-driver seat for getting us around."

Coma's bike triumph came after Sam Sunderland collected a 10-minute penalty overnight for a technical infringement.

The setback denied the Dubai-based British rider a brilliant start-to-finish victory as a reward for outshining the reigning world champion and a host of other stars of cross-country rallying. Coma won by just 32 seconds over Portugal's Paulo Goncalves.

Sunderland finished third and remained philosophical at the end.

"It was a really good week for me, but I made a big mistake yesterday," he said. "During liaison, I went to talk to the mechanic about my broken exhaust late in the race and after talking to him, I forgot to go through the final two gates and got a 10-minute penalty. I'm really gutted, but those are the rules."

Coma, who has now won the Desert Challenge bikes title five years in a row, said: "I'm very happy to win, but feel sorry for Sam because it was clear he was the fastest rider over the five days and deserved his victory. But those are the rules and we have to abide by them.

"For me, I was just riding easy for the first three days and just trying to get used to the desert."

Also celebrating victory was Qatar's Mohammed Abu-Issa, who came through a series of major scares on the final stage to capture the quads title at the first attempt, winning by just over three minutes from the UAE's defending champion, Obaid Al Kitbe.

Abu-Issa, the third Qatari to claim a Desert Challenge title after cars victories by Saeed Al Hajri (1993) and Nasser Al Attiyah (2008), said: "My air filter was clogged 4km from the finish and my engine just stopped. I had to rip it out and crawl to the finish.

"It feels great to finish and to win the quads. Luckily, I still won, so it's an amazing feeling, especially because this is my first Desert Challenge. It's been an unbelievable five days."

This was the event's 23rd year and it continues to stir up the emotions. "I'm 62 and the first time I competed here was 15 years ago, when it was basically just like a rally," said veteran Austrian rider Klaus Schwingenschloegl.

"Now if you ask any of the top pro cross-country riders, they will tell you this is the toughest cross-country rally for bikes in the world. I'm really proud to have finished at my age."

Another rider, Frenchman Christophe Sapy, could not hold back the tears at the finish.

"It's beautiful, tough, I made it," he said. "I had some bike problems. I'm overcome by emotion, I can't describe it. I will definitely be back next year."

 

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