Leg 1: Abu Dhabi - Moreeb
Liaison 53.20 km, Special 284.45 km, Liaison 119.03 km. Total 456.68 km
Weather conditions: very hot, humid and sunny 34-36º C
THE DUBAI RAID STARTS WITH REPSOL RIDERS AND DRIVERS IN THE LEADING POSITIONS
Luc Alphand is second in the overall car's standings and Marc Coma leads the motorbike standings
Frenchman Luc Alphand and co-driver Gilles Picard led Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart's challenge after the opening desert selective section of the UAE Desert Challenge, the final round of the 2006 FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup. The defending Dakar champions finished the day's opening desert selective section in second position to maintain second overall in the general classification. Team mates Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret had been the fastest crew through an earlier passage control on the desert debut of the new MPR13 version of the Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution, but lost valuable time in soft sand and damaged the car's steering in the process of reaching the stage finish.
Alphand and Picard began the day in second position and quickly passed Marc Corbett's Nissan Pick-Up, enabling them to lead the car category through the stage. They were third at PC1 and fourth at PC2. The stage was held in punishing heat and humidity and was an excellent endurance test for MMSP's new MPR13 which had turned a competitive wheel for the first time in Sunday's Super Special stage. Hiroshi Masuoka and Pascal Maimon started the stage fourth on the road and held sixth at PC1, but lost time in the subsequent section with navigational problems.
Positive first day for the Repsol riders Marc Coma and Jordi Viladoms in the motorbike class. Coma who started eighth this morning, managed to overtake the riders ahead until taking the lead and kept a fast pace that allowed him to reach the finish of today's stage all alone, opening the track. Thus Coma managed to set the fastest time in this first special. Team mate Jordi Viladoms, starting from twenty-fourth position, also managed to pass slower riders during the special finally setting the third fastest time of the day.
The hustle and bustle of Dubai's congested road network was a far cry from the remote and small tree-lined desert highways of the oil-rich emirate of Abu Dhabi for teams this morning. Following the ceremonial start the opening competitive stage began at Al-Dafrah and took place over fast sand flats and high-speed gravel tracks. Tomorrow (Tuesday) is the second leg of the event and the Repsol riders and drivers will tackle a 304.50 km timed selective section across open desert and along fast tracks, starting near the Mizai'ra to Madinah Zayed highway and finishing on a gatch road, south of Khis village. Teams will then spend a second evening at the Moreeb Hill bivouac under the shadow of a giant sand dune after completing a 92.47 km return liaison section.
Luc Alphand: "The objective was to set a good pace from the start, because you never know when you are the first car in the stage what the actual pace of the other cars can be. It was easier than I thought. Marc Corbett was pushing quite hard in the Nissan and the bikes were making some tracks, which were easy to follow. I am happy today and in a good position for tomorrow."
Stephane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret: "We were going well, having a good stage. Then we got caught in some soft sand in a dune and lost around 25-30 minutes. We also damaged the steering, so we had to finish the stage with power steering problems."
Hiroshi Masuoka: "We were running well. The stage was very fast, but then we made a small navigational problem and I think it cost us a few minutes."
Marc Coma: "It's been a first contact with the desert and the truth is that I'm happy because the leg went very well and we've already been able to open small gaps. We hope to continue in this same line, there are five days left and this has just started. Today was something like a smal introduction to what we are going to face later on. We have started with fast tracks, then a lot of sand and it ended up with dunes that were quite difficult to pass. I started eighth and began passing other riders until I managed to take over the lead in km 130, all alone, opening the track until the end of the stage."
Jordi Viladoms: "I'm quite happy because I think that third is a good position considering that I started quite from the back. I had some trouble in the beginning because there was a lot of dust, but then I managed to overtake slower riders and moved up to were Isidre Esteve was. I'm happy because I had a good pace and the aim was not making any mistake, which I didn't."