LUC ALPHAND IN CARS AND MARC COMA IN MOTORBIKES FACE THE LAST SPECIAL OF THE DUBAI RAID LEADING THE STANDINGS
Alphand finishes fourth fastest and victory for Coma. Stephane Peterhansel keeps the second position in the overall car class standings and Jordi Viladoms recovers the third place in motorbikes
Leg 4 Moreeb - Moreeb
Liaison 6 km, Special 378.90 km, Liaison 123.10 km.Total 508.00 km
Weather conditions: hot and sunny after early morning fog - 28-33º C
Frenchman Luc Alphand and co-driver Gilles Picard will take a 20m 45s lead into the final day of the 2006 UAE Desert Challenge after setting the fourth fastest time through the longest section of the event, an energy-sapping 378.90 km selective section that wound its way through some of the remotest desert terrain in the Rub Al-Khali region of the Abu Dhabi emirate, today. Team mates Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret finished the stage in third place and head into the last day in second overall, with Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka and Pascal Maimon completing the team line-up in seventh place.
Alphand and Picard began the day's competition 22m 22s ahead of their closest team mates and immediately behind them in the starting order. But Alphand discovered that it is easier to follow than to open the stage and had gained 1m 37s on his team mate by PC1. But Peterhansel redressed the balance at PC2 and was running second fastest on the track behind Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah. Four cars arrived in a procession at PC3 and Spaniard Carlos Sainz eventually pressed on to take the stage win, with Alphand and Peterhansel consolidating their first and second positions in the overall classification, after Peterhansel lost time with two flat tires and Alphand eased his pace to avoid taking risks over the closing kilometres.
Hiroshi Masuoka and Pascal Maimon started behind Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and were anxious to close the gap on the seventh-placed Spaniard Jose-Luis Monterde, who began the day 2m 46s ahead of the 2004 UAE Desert Challenge winner. Hiroshi had gained 2m 03s at PC1 and had moved ahead of the Spaniard by PC2, despite losing some time in soft sand. He will start the final morning in seventh position.
In the motorbike class, comfortable victory for Marc Coma despite the complicated route, and less positive day for Jordi Viladoms who could not keep his fast pace due to a problem with a fuse of his motorbike, hindering from finishing better than seventh fastest in the special. He benefited however from Esteve's retirement moving back to the third place in the overall standings. And while Viladoms was suffering with his bike, Coma kept a cold head despite starting among the first, setting a pace that was fast enough to avoid the following rider catching up with him and closing the gap in the overall standings. Coma passed Blais on km 50 and from that moment continued alone, setting a fast pace until the finish. Today's stage was long and complicated with many dunes at the beginning and fast tracks in the second half of the special and more dunes towards the end. Coma finally won the stage and Jordi Viladoms was sixth. Coma continues leading the overall standings.
Tomorrow (Friday) is the final day of the UAE Desert Challenge and the competitive action is split into two selective sections. The fifth sandy 122.45 km selective starts on the edge of the Al Dhafrah road to the east of the Humeem desert highway and passes the Haleeba mast focal point and Sheikh Zayed's hunting patrol station, before finishing 68 km south of the Al Ain truck road. A 103.85 km liaison guides crews to the start of the final 163.90 km competitive section north of the Al Ain highway at Khatam. The selective finishes south of the Dubai Autodrome, near to Bab Al Shams and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum's endurance village at L'Isaili. A 44.85 km liaison takes crews on to the ceremonial finish at the Dubai International Marine Club (DIMC) in Mina Seyahi, around 30 km west of Dubai.
Luc Alphand: "I was asked by the team to slow down after PC2...Orders! It was a pretty safe day. I was with Stephane at one point in some big dunes with no GPS point and we lost three minutes. Then it was smarter to let Nasser and Carlos go past. They are a long way behind us. Now I must take it easy and not push to save the car. There's one day to go. It's looking good."
Stephane Peterhansel: "Carlos passed me on a fast track 30 km from the end of the stage. I tried to push and catch him, but he was driving very fast. I did not want to take too many risks. After the refuelling the stage was much faster, but it is always dangerous to drive too hard. I had a front-right puncture early on. We changed the wheel and then we had a puncture again, so we stopped again."
Hiroshi Masuoka: "I lost some time in the sand this morning. But I am pleased that we managed to take seventh place."
Marc Coma: "It's been a very long stage with a 380-km special. The start was a little delayed again due to the early fog and that means starting the special when the sun is already up in the sky and the heat is really strong, what makes the rally even harder. The result of the stage is good. Today was an important day, we had to try to avoid the other from closing the gap and we even managed to increase it so it's been very good. We'll try to make tomorrow's stage a mere formality, although it's a special you have to race so we'll see if we can continue like this."
Jordi Viladoms: "Today has been a complicated day because I had some electrical problem after 60 km which made the bike stop and therefore the GPS to fail so I had to go back a couple of times to look for waypoints I didn't get because the GPS was failing. I continued like that until the refuelling point where we changed a fuse. From then on I was able to do better. I lost some time but I improved one place in the standings, since Esteve's engine broke down. Now we only have to continue like this, hoping that nothing strange happens, in order to keep this third place."