Nani Roma made clear his intent to retain his drivers’ title in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and Dubai-based Sam Sunderland took the lead in the bikes category after the 290-kilometre Stage 1 on the northern edge of the Empty Quarter.
Roma looks to expand his empire as Sunderland rules on two-wheels
AL GHARBIA, ABU DHABI // Nani Roma made clear his intent to retain his drivers’ title in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge when the Spaniard and his French co-driver Michel Perin powered into a lead of 11 minutes, 29 seconds on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Dubai-based English rider Sam Sunderland took the lead in the bikes category after the 290-kilometre Stage 1 race through the giant dunes of the Al Gharbia region, on the northern edge of the Empty Quarter.
The day’s racing was marred by the death of the Dubai-based British rider Cameron Waugh, following an accident during the stage.
Roma also is the reigning Dakar Rally champion, and the performance he and his partner achieved in their Mini All 4 Racing car set a marker for those already well behind.
“There were a lot of dunes but I had no problems and navigation is going well,” Roma said. “I’m testing some new systems in the car and it’s going very well, so far.”
Marek Dabrowski and Jacek Czachor of Poland are second, in a Toyota Hilux, and the Dutchman Eric van Loon is third in a Mini.
The Emirati Yahya Al Helei completed the stage in eighth place, in his new Nissan pick-up.
“It was very difficult, with some big jumps,” said Al Helei, who is partnered by compatriot Khalid Al Kendi. “Also, it is a new car and I need more practice. I had problems with the shock absorbers. Also, no reverse gear, but being a Nissan, it keeps going.”
Sunderland, who finished third in the bikes last year after a technical infringement knocked him out of first place, was in control in his KTM debut, winning the stage by 34 seconds from his new teammate, Marc Coma.
“Myself and Marc travelled together and, luckily, we had tracks from earlier riders. Then, towards the end, I was able to go ahead.
“Overall, it was a great stage and I’m very happy.”
The Emirati rider Mohammed Al Balooshi finished 10th in the stage, and said: “Today was tough, as I am getting used to the bike and trying to pick up on my fitness, so I took it easy in order to finish the stage.”
Mohammed Abu Issa of Qatar, the defending champion in the quad class, was first home, ahead of Poland’s Rafal Sonik, the world champion.
“The stage had more dunes than I expected, which was actually quite good for my bike as I had made the setting more suited to that terrain’” Abu Issa said. “I did struggle a little with the bike in the first half, after the changes I’d made after Dakar, but the second half was much better once I got used to the bike again.”
He added, however, that he had lost his time card and expects a five-minute penalty.
The rally bivouac is near the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort, in the oasis town of Liwa.
Today’s Stage 2 will cover 269km and begin at 8am at the Mizaira Adnoc petrol station at Power Station, on the road to Madinat Zayed. The leaders are expected to finish at 12.15pm.
Five stages will be held in the desert, with the final stage concluding at Yas Island, in Abu Dhabi, on Thursday.
Abu Dhabi’s Ostberg secures third in Portugal
Mads Ostberg picked up his second podium of the season for Team Citroen Abu Dhabi at Rally Portugal with a third-place finish.
The Norwegian was 1 minute, 12.4 seconds behind Volkswagen’s Sebastien Ogier, who won the event for a fourth time, with Hyundai’s Mikko Hirvonen second. Ostberg’s Emirati teammate, Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, finished 13th.
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