UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge 2001
FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies
FIM Cross Country Rallies World Cup -
Schlesser draws first blood in UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge
Defending FIA World Cross-Country champion Jean-Louis Schlesser is the overnight leader of the UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge, which began with a traditional three-kilometre Prologue stage at Dubai Festival City, near the Al-Garhoud bridge in Dubai, on Monday afternoon.
Germany's Jutta Kleinschmidt - the Frenchman's main rival for the world title - decided to sit in the stage for a short period to enable her to start from the back of the field when the real desert action begins on Tuesday morning.
"Jutta did not want to open the road in the desert," admitted Mitsubishi team manager Dominique Serieys. "It is better for her to start from behind and attack from that position. She can see what is happening in front." Schlesser's Renault-engined Megane finished the stage 17 seconds ahead of his nearest rivals.
The UAE's experienced Yayha Bilhili was tied with Tahoe team mate Ahmed Soughat in third place and the Kuwaiti 4x4 champion Nasser Al-Ajmi was fifth overall in a Jeep Cherokee. There was a three-way tie for sixth place between T1 Marathon class front-running Frenchman Jean-Pierre Strugo, Russia's Alexander Khrol and the UAE's Issa El-Hemrani in a Marlboro-supported Mitsubishi Pajero.
In the Bikes category, Slovenia's Miran Stanovnik, who tackled the UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge last year and ran well on this year's Paris-Dakar Rally, pushed his Husqvarna 610 TE to the front of the field, alongside Frenchman Francois Flick on a KTM 660 Rallye. They were tied with a time of 2m 11s.
The UAE's Khalid Khamis was third fastest on a similar Austrian-built machine and Italy's Fabio Benetti and Tunisia's Abdelkarim Gatlani completed the top five on their respective KTM and Yamaha.
UAE-based British riders David McBride and Steve Blackney were handily-placed inside the top 10 for a strong push on the opening desert section across the Manassir Plateau on Tuesday. The stage starts at 10.20 with competitors set to arrive at the Liwa bivouac and overnight rest halt in the afternoon.
Introduced to determine the starting order when the real desert action gets underway from the Corniche in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday morning, the Prologue attracted a huge crowd anxious to see the opening exchange between Kleinschmidt and Schlesser for the FIA World Cross-Country title.
Running first on the road is often seen as a disadvantage in cross-country rallying and there was some strategic racing by several of the front runners today to ensure that they were positioned down the running order. "You know it often pays to run down the field so that you can follow the tracks of others in the dunes and the desert," insisted KTM's French factory rider Cyril Despres.
It is these games of cat and mouse which have made this form of rallying so fascinating in recent years. However, on typical Baja events in Southern Europe, through narrow mountain passes in Morocco and along single track savannah paths in Mali and Senegal - where the routes regularly use sinuous rocky tracks and dusty trails - it is often a distinct advantage to run first on the road to avoid the dust of other vehicles.
Unofficial positions after Prologue stage:
1. Jean-Louis Schlesser (F)/Henri Magne (F) Renault Megane 2m 09s
2. Bruce Garland (AUS)/Stephen Green (AUS) Holden Jackaroo 2m 26s
3. Yayha Bilhili (UAE)/Khaled Al-Kendi (UAE) Chevrolet Tahoe 2m 28s
3. Ahmed Soughat (UAE)/Ahmed Malik (UAE) Chevrolet Tahoe 2m 28s
5. Nasser Al-Ajmi (KWT)/Khaled Al-Ajmi (KWT) Jeep Cherokee 2m 30s
6. Alexander Khrol (RU)/Alexander Marzaliouk (RU) Mitsubishi Pajero 2m 33s
6. Jean-Pierre Strugo (F)/Yves Ferri (F) Mitsubishi Pajero 2m 33s
6. Issa El-Hemrani (UAE)/Imad Nabhan (UAE) Mitsubishi Pajero 2m 33s
1. Miran Stanovnik (SLO) Husqvarna 610 TE 2m 11s
1. Francois Flick (F)) KTM 660 Rallye 2m 11s
3. Khalid Khamis (UAE) KTM 660 2m 12s
4. Fabio Benetti (I) KTM 660 2m 14s
4. Abdelkarim Gatlani (TN) Yamaha WRF 2m 14s
6. Lee Gregson (GB) KTM Rallye 2m 15s
Dense fog delays start of opening desert section
Dense fog delayed the start of the opening desert section but it didn't prevent defending world champion Jean-Louis Schlesser from extending his overnight lead at the end of the 369 kms Manassir Plateau section from Abu Dhabi to the first overnight halt at Liwa.
The Frenchman had exercised his option to change his starting order this morning, after setting fastest time in the Prologue stage at Dubai Festival City on Monday, and pressed his advantage home throughout the day's section, which offered a mixture of gatch roads, fast subkhas and three tricky dune ranges between the second and third passage controls.
"We had a heavy landing over a dune about 30 kms from the end of the stage," admitted Schlesser. "It damaged the front of the car, punctured a tyre and I couldn't get the wheel off. But we managed to push and open up a good lead."
Meanwhile, Germany's Jutta Kleinschmidt was beginning her climb through the field from a starting position of 34th overall after the Prologue stage. "We decided to start at the back and see what was happening ahead of us," said the winner of the Dakar. "My team mates are running close behind me in case I have a problem."
She duly moved up to second place, although UAE driver Yayha Bilhili, Russian Vladislav Rakitiyaskiy and Frenchman Jean-Pierre Strugo were all driving well inside the top 10. In the National category, Japan's Kenjiro Shinozuka edged out Frenchman Jean-Pierre Fontenay in the Super Production Pajeros.
In the Bikes section, overnight joint leaders Miran Stanovnik and Francois Flick were soon overtaken by French rider Cyril Despres, riding this factory KTM for the first time. Third overall in last year's UAE Desert Challenge, Despres started today's section in 24th place and finished well ahead of the rest of the field after a scintillating performance.
"The stage was perfect for me," said the Frenchman. "It is my first time with this bike. It went like a dream."
The UAE trio of David McBride, Khalid Khamis and Steve Blackney were well placed and McBride overcame a small GPS problem to move into second place overall. Frenchman Paul Rivet was pushing hard despite losing his GPS after the third passage control and was inside the top 10, although Blackney complained of a lack of power and claimed his realistic goal was a top five placing.
The international entourage of bikes, cars and trucks from no less than 21 countries had left Dubai before dawn en route to the official start on the Corniche in Abu Dhabi, but dense early morning fog dictated that the event would not start on time for safety reasons.
"It was just not possible to start on time, because it wasn't safe for the helicopters to fly and competitor safety is of paramount importance," said an official spokesman from the organising team. "As a result we were running around two hours behind schedule today."
A decision was also taken to move the finish of the stage to a route along the Abu Dhabi to Hameem highway, the outcome therefore shortening the day's section by 46 kms on safety grounds. "There was a tricky section at the end of the proposed stage and we didn't want to run the risk of some backmarkers finishing the leg in darkness," insisted race director Kevin Monaghan. in wednesday the route heads due east from Liwa at 06.30 towards Arada, near the border with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Competitors press on through the Eastern region of the Rub Al-Khali, traversing a diverse range of terrain including tricky dunes and fast compact sand sections.
The UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge trail then turns north and west and skirts the Mizaira road underpass, running south towards last year's bivouac site at the Arjan mast and on to a finish north of Hameem. Unofficial positions after SS1 (Manassir Plateau - 369 kms): <pre> CARS: 1. Jean-Louis Schlesser/Henri Magne (Renault Megane) 3h 20m 40s 2. Jutta Kleinschmidt/Andreas Schultz (Mitsubishi Pajero) 3h 34m 05s 3. Vladislav Rakityaskiy/Vladimir Demianenko (Mitsubishi Pajero) 3h 57m 57s 4. Jean-Pierre Strugo/Yves Ferri (Mercedes ML 430) 4h 00m 51s 5. Yayha Bilhili/Khaled Al-Kendi (Chevrolet Tahoe) 4h 04m 09s 8. Issa El-Humrani/Imad Nabhan (Mitsubishi Pajero) 4h 14m 01s 9. Bruce Garland/Stephen Green (Holden Jackaroo) 4h 16m 32s
Cars - National category: 1. Kenjiro Shinozuka (J)/Thierry Delli-Zotti Mitsubishi Pajero 3h 22m 29s 2. Jean-Pierre Fontenay (F)/Gilles Picard (F) Mitsubishi Pajero 3h 23m 16s
Bikes: 1. Cyril Despres (F) 3h 36m 02s 2. David McBride (UAE) 3h 56m 14s 3. Paul Rivet (F) 4h 00m 26s 4. Khalid Khamis (UAE) 4h 08m 43s 5. Fabio Benetti (I) 4h 09m 12s 6. Steve Blackney (UAE) 4h 11m 11s 7. Francois Flick (F) 4h 13m 10s 8. Miran Stanovnik (SLO) 4h 30m 13s