Coma and Peterhansel lead the standings in Dubai

Repsol riders and drivers take the lead after the prologue stage of the UAE Desert Challenge. Duran and Roma take second place in motorbikes and cars.

The 2005 UAE Desert Challenge, which will conclude on Monday 14, started today in Dubai, with the opening two-kilometre prologue stage on a specially prepared track close to the Ibn Battuta Mall. Confirming all forecasts, Repsol rider Marc Coma and Repsol driver Stephane Peterhansel were able to take the victory of today's show-stage. 61 bikes, nine quads, 31 cars and three trucks will take the start of the first timed selected section from Abu Dhabi city to the remote Moreeb outpost tomorrow morning. This year's race has been extended by one day to six days and will reach a conclusion on Monday at the Dubai International Marine Club, after 1,583 competitive kilometres in a total route of 2,260 kms.

In the car class, Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team driver Stephane Peterhansel arrived in Dubai with the clear aim of winning the rally for the third time in his career, after 2002 and 2003, and today he has laid the foundation stone taking the lead of the standings ahead of his team-mate, Spaniard Nani Roma. Both drivers and their respective co-drivers Jean-Paul Cottret and Henri Magne, are facing the final round of the FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup as a final competitive shakedown test for the coming Dakar Rally which will be starting on December 31 in Lisbon.

Marc Coma was fastest after the two-kilometres stage arriving at the finish ahead of his Repsol KTM team-mate, Jordi Duran, and his closest rivals Cyril Desprès and David Casteu. Coma arrives at the final scoring round of the World Championship leading the standings and with an advantage of ten points over Casteu and 22 over Desprès. The young Spaniard will try to have everything under control, avoiding any mistake in order to clinch his first Raid World Championship title. The top ten of today's stage have the privilege of choosing the starting order for tomorrow. Whilst Duran and Coma have chosen to start from the ninth and tenth place, Casteu will start from the twenty-second and Desprès from the last position.

Tomorrow, riders and drivers will move from Dubai to the neighbouring emirate of Abu Dhabi for the official start, before a 55 kms liaison section takes them to the beginning of a 283 kms timed section, finishing 75 kms away from the overnight bivouac at Moreeb, near Liwa.

Stephane Peterhansel: "Since I won the Dakar Rally for a second time with Mitsubishi in January I have had my fair share of bad luck. So it is important that I take a good finishing position here in the UAE. I had bad luck in Argentina, lost the chance of a win on the final morning in Morocco and didn't manage to win in Spain. So this rally is very important for my confidence. I enjoy this event. The stages in the desert are a good test for me and for the team in preparation for the Dakar."

Nani Roma: "I have the MPR10 version of the Mitsubishi which was used by Luc Alphand to win the recent Baja in Portugal. This event is a great chance for me to get more experience in the car, especially in the sand dunes. This could be crucial on the Dakar."

Marc Coma: "Today has been a short, but amusing stage, with a great atmosphere. It was actually a show. I'm really looking forward to this race and that is probably the reason why the stage felt so short. We have to be very conscious about what we must and want to achieve these days. Our aim, rather than winning is scoring the points we need for the Championship. Let's say that our strategy will be a more conservative one, because we are not going to take any unnecessary risks. We'll see how we are and how the others are after tomorrow's stage. It isn't a complicated rally, and that is exactly why we have to be concentrated and avoid any mistake."

Jordi Duran: "After my comeback in Egypt, I have a double aim here. On the one hand I must do team-work to help Marc taking the title. I have to be there for anything he needs. And on the other hand I have to prepare the Dakar, especially as regards navigation and the dunes, because there is not much time left. Today's prologue has been really amusing, a stage to enjoy, but the real thing starts tomorrow. Let's see what happens."

Jordi Arcarons: "It's a long rally, covering several days where there will be several factors to be considered, we cannot miss anything. There are many kilometres ahead, although they are not that hard as regards the riding. Concentration will be essential and our aim is to watch-out for our rivals, to control our bike and to avoid loosing a single minute and position. We have two big rivals: Desprès, the most dangerous, although he is 22 points behind and Casteu, currently not so strong, 10 points behind. They don't have anything else left but winning and for us it is enough to manage the advantage. Marc is very calm and he is in an unbeatable physical shape, so we have a lot of confidence in his chances. Jordi knows exactly what he has to do and that this is the perfect chance to prepare for the Dakar. If we do our job we only have to hope that luck is on our side." <pre> Car standings after the prologue stage (unofficial): 1. S. Peterhansel , J-P. Cottret Mitsubishi Montero Evolution 1'54 sec. 2. J. Roma, H. Magne Mitsubishi Montero Evolution 1'55 sec. 3. A. Bin Soughat, J. Al-Balooshi Chevrolet Pick-Up 2'03 sec. 3. Y. Al-Helai, K. Al-Kendi Chevrolet Pick-Up 2'03 sec. 5. J. Cauwenberg, D. Espeel Toyota Landcruiser 2'04 sec.

Bike standings after the prologue stage (unofficial): 1. M. Coma 2. J. Duran 3. C. Desprès 4. D. Casteu

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