Qatari rider says UAE’s spectacular event makes competitors feel they’re on top of the world

Abu Dhabi, UAE, 9 April, 2013: Spain’s Nani Roma took a major step towards a first victory in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge today while Dubai-based British rider Sam Sunderland came under pressure but retained his lead in the bikes class on another day of cross country rallying at its best in the Rub Al Khali.

While defending champion Jean-Louis Schlesser won the spectacular 284-km Qasr Al SarabStage 3 to take his buggy into third place overall in the cars category, the third fastest time on the day was enough to allow Roma and French co-driver Michel Perin more than double their overnight lead to 40 mins 39 secs in a Mini.

Fourth quickest on the stage, Brazillian Guilherme Spinelli partnered by Youssef Haddad in a Mitsubishi ASX, held second place at the end of another demanding passage through the towering dunes of the UAE’s Western Region of Al Garbia.

Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke and fellow-countryman Erik Van Loon, both driving an HRX Ford X, and Czech driver Miroslav Zapletal in a Hummer H3, completed the top six.

Despite his commanding lead, Roma, knows he cannot afford to relax over the final two legs, which is where many other victory hopes have been buried over the years.

He completed the Qasr Al Sarabstage to say: “It was another difficult stage and the sand was very soft. It’s always harder to open a stage and make the tracks, and I was waiting and waiting for the cars to come behind me, but they never came.


“You just need to concentrate that much more in the desert. It’s really tough like that, but that’s the way it is in the Desert Challenge.”

Spinelli said: “Again it was a very difficult stage, and very different from yesterday. In some places it was very fast, in others very slow. I made a mistake just after the start and got stuck which cost me another ten minutes. But I’m here to learn the desert so it’s great practice for me.”


Schlesser, partnered by Russian co-driver Konstantin Zhilstov, said: “I had a few difficulties with the car over the last two stages but it went really well today. I had a good day. I passed a couple of cars and the foot which I injured a few weeks ago feels fine in the car.”

“It was another day when the Desert Challenge lived up to its reputation for setting a tough, but fair examination for everyone,” said Dr. Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organisers, and founder event. “No-one ever said this was an easy event.”

Lying ninth overnight and leading the T2 production class which he was attempting to win for the third year in a row, the UAE’s Yahya Alhelei did not start the stage after co-driver Abdul-Haleem Zayed was taken to Medina Zayed Hospital following the second stage complaining of chest pain.

It was a day when four of the world’s top cross country rally bike stars rode together on another dramatic passage through the spectacular dunes of the Rub Al Khali in pursuit of overnight leader Sunderland.

Poland’s Jakub Przygonski was fastest on the Qasr Al Sarab stage from Portugal’s Paulo Goncalves, Spain’s reigning world champion and six-times Desert Challenge winner Marc Coma and Norwegian former world champion Pal Anders Ullevalseter. But while they managed to close the gap, Sunderland is still out in front, although the pressure on him will be intense over the remaining two days.

Stage winner Przygonski said: “Today was a very good day for me. I got lost yesterday so I had to make up some time today and I’m really happy with the result. The top four rode this stage together and we also came across a few camels. They weren’t in our way, but it was a cool experience. There were also a lot of nice jumps in this stage.”

Each year, the Desert Challenge tests competitors and rally machinery to the limit, while also introducing them to some of the most breathtaking landscapes on earth.

Qatari rider Mohammed Abu-Issa summed up appeal of the event and the beauty of the UAE desert after completing today’s stage, when he said: “I’ve never experienced anything like this. It’s just amazing. The scenery is spectacular and you just feel like you are on top of the world.”

Equally exhuberant, Brazilian rider Dimas Mattos said: “It was so much fun. This is my first time here and it is totally different from Brazil, but I’m really loving it. I made a lot of friends today. Even though I don’t know their names we raced together and it was amazing..”

The Desert Challenge, which is taking place under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region, is the second round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars, and the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship. The event’s high-profile line-up of strategic partners and supporters includes the Diwan of the Ruler’s Representative for the Western Region, Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management, Nissan, ADNOC, Abu Dhabi Aviation and Qasr Al Sarab Resort by Anantara.

Leading positions after Qasr Al Sarab Special Stage 3 - cars

1. Nani Roma / Michel Perin (ESP / FRA) MINI All 4 Racing X T1                        09:47.03

2. Guilherme Spinelli / Youssef Haddad (BRA / BRA) Mitsubishi ASX T1                        10:27.42

3. Jean Louis Schlesser / Konstantin Zhilstov (FRA /RUS) Schlesser Orignal          10:33.24

4. Bernhard Ten Brinke / Matthieu Baumel (NLD / FRA) HRX Ford X T1             10:47.32

5. Erik Van Loon / Wouter Rosegaar (NLD / NLD) HRX Ford X T1                      10:57.21

6. Miroslav Zapletal / Maciej Marton (CZE / POL) Hummer H3 X T1                     11:37.01

7. Holowczyc Krystof / Schulz Andreas (POL / GER) MINI All 4 Racing X T1     11:38.54

8. Leonid Ogorodnikov / Anton Nikolaev (RUS / RUS) Toyota Hilux T1               12:05.06

9. Stephan Schott / Holm Schmidt (GER / GER) MINI All 4 Racing T1                 12:28.39

10. Yasir Saeidan (SAU) / Sebastien Telauny (FRA) Polaris T3                                12:28.58


1. Sam Sunderland (UAE) Honda CRF 450 X                                  07:22:08

2. Paulo Goncalves (PRT) Speedbrain 450 Rally                               07:23:06

3. Marc Coma Camps  (ESP) KTM 450 Rally Replica                       07:23:25

4. Pal Anders Ullevalseter (NOR) KTM 450 Rally                            07:35:54

5. Jakub Przygonski (POL) KTM 450 Rally Replica                          07:37:54

6. David McBride (GBR) KTM 500 EXC                                         07:57:36

7.  Tedeusz Blazusiak (POL) KTM 450 Rally Replica                       07:58:44

8.  Sebastian Husseini (NED) Honda TRX 700 XX                          08:00:43

9.  Juan Salvatierra Carlos (BOL) HM Honda CRE F 500 X                        08:01:55

10. Miran Stanovnik (SVN) KTM 450 Rally Replica                        08:07:01



Wednesday 10th April LEG 4


•           Nissan SS 4 (266 km): start is 35 kms north of Mizaira ADNOC gas station at Fodder Farm, on road to Madinat Zayed – first competitor starts the SS at 0800hrs. N23 30.172 E53 41.109

•           Photo opportunity at PC 1 (Underpass)(W/point N23 07.943/E53 17.936) Gayathi Road (E15) 53 kms north of the roundabout junction with Liwa Crescent road. First Moto competitor due at approx 0900hrs.

•           Photo opportunity at PC 2 (Service & Moto refuel) (W/point– N23 13.901 E53 10.529 36 Kms up Gayathi Road (E15) north of the roundabout junction with Liwa Crescent road. First Moto competitor due at approx 0945hrs.

•           PC 3, route crosses main road at Geyathi/Liwa roundabout (N23 00.054 E53 25.407) at 1105 hrs and route continues parallel to south of main road , running east, with occasional good viewpoints, before heading into the desert

•           Finish SS 4 is on Tal Morib road, approx 14 kms south of main crescent road (N23 00.054 E53 25.407) at 1215 hrs