PETERHANSEL BUILDS HUGE DESERT CHALLENGE LEAD AS HOST COUNTRY'S HOPES GET DOUBLE BOOST
Despres holds on to bikes lead while Khamis climbs to fourth place,
Al Helei goes third in cars battle as Roma suffers illness setback
Moreeb Hill, Liwa, UAE, 11th November, 2005: French master Stephane Peterhansel tightened his grip on the UAE Desert Challenge today while Cyril Despres held on to his lead in the bikes category as the host country built hopes of a double podium finish on a day of drama in the Empty Quarter.
Chasing his third Desert Challenge victory in four years, Peterhansel, winner of the last two Dakar Rallies, produced a stunning performance in his Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution to extend his lead to more than one-and-a-half hours from the BMW X5 of Spain's Jose Luis Monterde.
Making the most of his local knowledge and benefiting from the withdrawal of Peterhansel's Mitsubishi team-mate, Joan Roma, because of suspected food poisoning, the UAE's Yahya Alheli swept into third place with his sights set firmly on Monterde.
In the battle for bikes supremacy, Despres finished the second leg leading by 4mins 3secs from Spain's Mark Coma, who needs only to avoid a mechanical failure or some other major misfortune to be crowned world champion on Monday
In third place was Frenchman David Casteu, followed closely by the UAE's Khalid Khamis Ozair who also showed his liking for the conditions on a day when two special stages sent the cars, bikes and trucks on a demanding journey through the giant dunes of the Empty Quarter.
German lady driver Ellen Lohr, giving a world debut to her Mercedes Benz ML350 Prototype, suffered a spectacular exit when the car rolled in the early part of the day's first of two special stages. Lohr and co-driver Detlef Ruf were both unhurt but the car was beyond repair.
Also among the early casualties on the day were Italian rider Domenico Caminiti
who retired with mechanical problems on the same stage, Britain's Charles Heatly who went out when his bike was badly damaged in a crash and Australian driver Bruce Garland whose Isuzu was was also halted by mechanical failure.
Once again there were no problems for Peterhansel, although he was the first to recognise the stern nature of the test provided by the day's two special stages of 133kms and 209kms.
"It was a very good day, but also very difficult," he said. "There was a lot of demand on the body and you needed to concentrate every kilometer after kilometre. It was really all sand dunes with no fast track so it was not an easy 200km, but the car is perfect."
The Desert Challenge is sponsored by Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, Nissan Middle East - with the Nissan Patrol the rally's official car - Dubai Waterfront, an 81 million square metre development by Nakheel, Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, ADNOC, Emarat and Inmarsat, providers of satellite communications.
While Monterde was quick to point out that Peterhansel is in a class of his own, Alhelei made it clear that he is not looking to settle for third place with three days to go. "The first half of the day was excellent and we were gaining all the time on the BMW," he said. "We were getting closer and closer and tomorrow could be the day."
Despres finished the stage to say: "It was a difficult route and it would have been so easy to get lost. There was a lot of racing today between myself, Coma and Casteu. It was a lot easier yesterday when I started from the back of the field.
Khamis, very happy at the finish, said: "That suited my bike more because there were a lot of dunes. I was ahead up to 205km but then I lost the route."
Roma and co-driver Henri Magne were forced to withdraw from the day's action after Roma was struck down by a possible bout of food poisoning for a second successive day on the morning's first stage.But Roma was set to restart the event in the morning (Saturday) when the Desert Challenge continues with the 354-km Al Batin stage. The 290-km Nissan stage follows on Sunday and two more stages of 122kms and 184kms return the survivors to the finish at Dubai International Marine Club at 4.30pm on Monday.
For the first time, rally enthusiasts and the general public can follow the progress of any competitor during the course of the event by visiting the official website (www.uaedesertchallenge.com) during the event and selecting the Iritrack link.
<pre> Provisional results after leg 2
Cars: 1. Stephane Peterhansel (F), Jean-Paul Cottret (F) Mitsubishi Pajero 7:05:34 2. Jose Luis Monterde, Tiziano Siviero (E/I) BMW 8:37:02 3. Yahya Alhelei, Khalid Alkendi (UAE) Chevrolet 8:49:42 4. Ahmed Bin Suqat, Jassim Albalooshi (UAE) Chevrolet 9:22:30 5. Mark Powell, Tim Ansel (GB) Land Rover 9:35:13 6. Derrick Edmondson, Mario Mitri (GB) Land Rover 9:42:29 7. Saeed Al Hameli, Ahmed Malik (UAE) Nissan 9:57:01 8. Vladmir Chagin, Istanislav Konopko, Eduard Nokolaev (RUS) Kamaz 10:05:42 9. Sergey Reshetnokov, Aydar Belyaev, Sergey Savostin (RUS) Kamaz 10:13:53 10. Sven Knorr, Torateh Frohlich (D) ORCML 10:28:09
Bikes: 1. Cyril Despres (F) KTM 7:41:11 2. Mark Coma (E) KTM 7:44:14 3. David Castue (F) KTM 7:44:40 4. Khaled Khamis Ozair (UAE) Honda 7:44:49 5. Pal Anders Ullevalseter (N) KTM 7:56:18 6. Jordi Duran Codina (E) KTM 8:00:48 7. Marek Dabrowski (PL) KTM 8:10:53 8. David McBride (GB) Honda 8:11:17 9. Jacek Czachor (PL) KTM 8:15:45 10. Lee Palmer (AUS) KTM 8:23:18