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YAHYA OUTSHINES WORLD’S BEST TO TAKE LEAD IN ABU DHABI DESERT CHALLENGE

World champion Coma grabs early advantage in battle of the bikes 

Abu Dhabi, UAE, 29 March, 2015:  The UAE’s Yahya Al Helei covered himself in glory today in the 25th anniversary Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge POWERED by Nissan , outshining the world’s best drivers to take the lead as he extended his remarkable 100% appearance record in the event.

Partnered by Emirati co-driver Khalid Al Kindi in a Nissan Pick-up,  Al Helei won the 262km Yas Marina Circuit Special Stage 1 in impressive style to take a 1 mins 54 secs overall lead from

reigning FIA World Cup champion Vladimir Vasilyev, last year’s cars winner, in a Mini.

 

Brazilian Reinaldo Varela in a Toyota Hilux finished the leg in third, with Dakar Rally champion  Nasser Al-Attiyah, the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi and Dutchman Erik Van Loon completing the top six.

In the battle of the bikes, reigning FIM world champion Marc Coma of Spain once again looked in complete control in the desert of the Western Region which he has come to know so well, taking a lead of 1.21 secs from his KTM team-mate, Dubai-based British rider Sam Sunderland.

But Al Helei, the man who has previously contested the Desert Challenge 23 times in a car and once on a bike, was unquestionably the star of the day, despite a nervous last section when he was hindered by gearbox problems.

He reached the end of the stage to say: “I spent AED1 million to turn my car from T2 to T1 because I want to win this rally. The other drivers have factory cars, but I wanted to show that the most important thing is how strong is the driver, not the car.

“I had a good day, but for the last 80kms I had transmission problems, sometimes losing fourth gear and third gear. I was happy to finish, and tomorrow I hope for another good day.”

 

Making it an even better day for the host country, Al Qassmi produced a splendid drive on his Desert Challenge debut to finish the day in fifth place, showing that he has adapted quickly after making the transition from conventional rallying to cross country for this event.

“It was a great performance from Yaha, who has shown again what an accomplished driver he is,” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organisers.

“It’s good to see an Emirati driver performing so well on this world stage, and it was encouraging as well to see Sheikh Khalid driving so confidently on his first attempt at the Desert Challenge.”

 Coma was in commanding form on his KTM, and with defending champion Paulo Goncalves of Portugal more than four minutes further adrift in third, the Spaniard said at the end of the stage: “The first day has been tricky however everyone is excited and pushing.  I am happy and in a good position.”

 

Sunderland, who had been uncomfortable with his sixth place starting position on the day, produced another quality performance to say:  “I gave it my all to gain ground and catch up with bikers in front.  It was difficult but I pushed myself really hard to get there.”

Goncalves, who produced a brilliant final leg surge to win the bikes crown last year, said: “Today has been hard as I began fast so I could chase the leaders.  I then lost time when I stopped to help a competitor.  Tomorrow is another day and I need to remain focused.”

Portugal’s Ruben Faria, American Ricky Brabec and Austrian Matthias Walkner completed the top six, while top UAE rider Mohammed Al Balooshi again looked comfortable in the presence of the world’s top riders, setting the seventh fastest time.

Balooshi said: “I started the stage in third and stayed there almost until the first service.  I then  stalled and  Marc Coma passed me. It’s day one of four more long days. Anything can happen and it’s important to be smart and take it day by day.”

 

The 25th Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is taking place under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Western region.

The Nissan Patrol, the “Hero of All terrain in Life”, is positioned for the 12th year as the official vehicle of the event.

The line-up of strategic partners includes the Ruler’s Court in the Western Region, Western Region Municipality, Abu Dhabi Municipality, the UAE Army, Abu Dhabi Police, National Ambulance Service, Nissan, Yas Marina Circuit, ADNOC, Abu Dhabi Aviation, Al Ain Mineral Water, Abu Dhabi Waste Management, Rotana and Centro Hotels - Yas Island, Qasr Al Sarab Resort, Explorer and DP World.

Provisional overall standings after Yas Marina Circuit SS1

Cars

1. Yahya Al Helei / Khalid Al Kindi ( UAE / UAE ) Nissan Pick up                        3:20:13.0

2. Vladimir Vasilyev / Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS / RUS ) Mini All4 Racing            3:22:07.0

3. Reinaldo Varela / Gustavo Gugelmin ( BRA / BRA ) Toyota Hilux                     3:23:15.0

4. Nasser Al-Attiyah / Mathieu Baumel (QAT / FRA ) Mini All4 Racing                 3:25:10.0

5. Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi / Jose Marques ( UAE / POR ) Toyota Hilux               3:25:35.0

6. Erik Van Loon / Wouter Rosegaar (NED / NED ) Mini All4 Racing                    3:26:35.0

7. Harry Hunt / Andreas Schulz ( GBR / DEU) Mini All4 Racing T1.2                    3:29:25.0        

8. Miroslav Zapletal / Maciej Marton ( CZE / POL ) Hummer H3 Evo T1.1 3:33:40.0

9. Marek Dabrowski / Jacek Czachor ( POL / POL ) Toyota Hilux Overdrive          3:34:51.0

10. Stephan Schott / Xavier Panseri ( DEU / FRA ) Mini All4 Racing T1.2           3:41:40.0

Bikes

1.         Marc Coma (SPA) KTM 450 Rally Replica 1                        3:12:54.0        

2.         Sam Sunderland (GBR) KTM 450 Rally Replica 1               3:14:15.0

3.         Paulo Goncalves (POR) Honda CRF 450 Rally 1                  3:18:27.0

4.         Ruben Faria (POR) KTM 450 Rally Replica 1                       3:24:01.0

5.         Ricky Brabec (USA) Honda CRF 450 Rally 1 J                    3:24:48.0

6.         Matthias Walkner (AUT) KTM 450 Rally Replica 1              3:26:53.0

7.         Mohammad Al Balooshi (UAE) KTM 450 Rally Replica 1   3:27:04.0

8.         Pablo Quintanilla (CHI) KTM 450 Rally Replica 1               3:28:52.0

9.         Armand Monleon (POL) KTM 450 Rally Replica 1              3:35:00.0

10.       Juan Salvatierra (BOL) KTM 450 Rally Replica 1                 3:37:22.0

ACTION GUIDE

Monday 30th March LEG 2

·         ADNOC SS 2 (279 km): start is 40 kms north of Mizaira ADNOC gas station at Fodder Farm, on road to Madinat Zayed – first competitor starts the SS at 0800hrs.

·         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 2 is on Tal Morib road, approx 17 kms south of main crescent roadat 1215 hrs

Tuesday 31st March LEG 3

·         QASR AL SARAB SS 3 (272 km):Start is at 0730 from the road to Tal Morib, (N23 04.171 E53 47.364)

·         07:50, the first bikes enter the Morib sports complex from the Eastern end before departing over the dunes by the radio mast.

 

  • PC 2 (Service & Moto fuel)  0940 hrs, at the Qasr al Sarab Old Bivouac2014 (N22 53.310 E54 20.466). The route enters from the dunes to the South and departs to the East
  • Good viewing point at the Underpass 25 km north of Humeem, where the route passes from East to West at 1120 hrs
  • Finish is from the West,19 km north of Humeem, over some spectacular dunes at 1130 hrs