PETERHANSEL AIMS TO END FRUSTRATING RUN WITH MASSIVE DESERT CHALLENGE VICTORY
Coma within reach of bikes world title as Despres holds on to lead; Alheli content with third place after tough day in Empty Quarter
Moreeb Hill, Liwa, UAE, 13th November, 2005: Stephane Peterhansel is poised to clinch an emphatic third victory in the UAE Desert Challenge tomorrow (Monday) as long as he can avoid the kind of problems which have frustrated him for much of this year.
While Peterhansel extended his lead by a further 42 minutes on today's demanding 290-km Nissan Stage, fellow-Frenchman Cyril Despres saw his overnight advantage in the bikes category reduced from ten to eight minutes by Spain's world champion elect, Marc Coma.
By the end of the fourth leg, Peterhansel's Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution was a massive 2 hrs 31 minutes ahead of the BMW X5 of Spain's Jose Luis Monterde, with the UAE's Yahya Alheli almost 32 minutes further adrift in his third-placed Chevrolet Pick-up.
Chasing his third Desert Challenge victory in four years Peterhansel was however taking nothing granted, with two more stages of 122kms and 184kms remaining before tomorrow's (Monday) finish at Dubai International Marine Club at 4.30pm.
"That was a nice stage, easier than yesterday, with plenty of variation in the terrain," he said at the finish before adding: "I have got to focus on the positives tomorrow because this year hasn't been so good since the Dakar. In Argentina I had a problem and lost the lead. In Morocco I lost the win on the last stage and in Spain I had a technical problem which also cost me victory."
After being sidelined for the previous two days by food poisoning, Peterhansel's Mitsubishi team-mate, Spain's Joan Roma, celebrated his return to action by being second quickest on the day, albeit more than eight minutes behind the master.
"I'm so glad to be racing again" confessed Roma. "I'm feeling better than two days ago when I was really bad. The dunes on this stage are harder than those on the Dakar Rally. The car was excellent and half way through the stage I raised the seatbelt higher up my stomach to make it more comfortable."
Monterde, reaching the end of the stage with the front left side of his car damaged, said: "I did that when I went over a big dune. At another point I stopped for ten minutes in soft sand and had to lower the tyre pressure to get out. Stephane is obviously the best cross country pilot."
Alhelei, who will now be content with third place after earlier having his eye firmly on second, admitted: "Today was very tough and very difficult. It was a testing stage for the experienced driver. My car did not have enough power and the oil was getting very hot and the automatic was a problem."
Once again dominating the battle of the trucks for the Kamaz team, Russians Vladmir Chagin, Stanislav Konopko and Eduard Nokolaev in fact had climbed to a marvellous fourth place overall at the end of the leg.
In the quads category Mustafa Hussain Al Balooshi led from fellow-UAE rider Mohammed Al Shamsi and third-placed Ricardo Leal Dos Santos of Portugal who was guiding his Yamaha ever closer to this year's world title.
After losing the stage to Coma but staying well on course for his fourth Desert Challenge victory, Despres said: "That was not a great day for me. I had problems with the air filter which made the engine very jerky for 30kms. After that it was ok and I rode alongside Marc to the finish."
Third-placed Frenchman David Castue, who began the event lying second in the world title race, had a bad finish to the day, rolling his bike 5kms before the finish. "I'm really upset with myself," he said. "My mind was elsewhere and not on the race. But I'm glad I have no injuries." Another rider, South African Peter Bergh, was taken to hospital by helicopter with a suspected broken collar bone after a crash well into the stage.
While the UAE's Khaled Khamis Ozair slipped six places to 13th, UAE-based British rider Dave McBride climbed two places to sixth while another Dubai expatriate, Steven Blackney, battled on to finish in 24th spot after another mix of good and bad.
"That was a good day today, I enjoyed it", he said, before adding: "But my bike caught fire, the first time in all these years of rallying this has happened to me. I ended upside down in a bowl, the fuel came out on to the hot exhaust and the fire started. I had to bury the back of the bike in the sand to put the fire out."
If there had been an award for persistence, it would have gone to British driver David Mabbs in a Land Rover. This was his story for the day: "At 20km the Kamaz truck ploughed into us damaging the left rear corner. At 75km we came off a dune landing hard with the front wheel splayed out at a horrible angle. We spent one hour changing the tie bars and while doing that the jack flew up and hit me on the head giving me a horrible headache. Then a little bit further on we had a puncture and 10km after that the GPS packed up. I'm glad to be here (end of stage). I want to get to the bivouac to chill out."
<pre> Provisional leading positions after leg 4
Cars: 1. Stephane Peterhansel (F), Jean-Paul Cottret (F) Mitsubishi Pajero 16:19:32 2. Jose Luis Monterde, Tiziano Siviero (E/I) BMW 18:50:40 3. Yahya Alhelei, Khalid Alkendi (UAE) Chevrolet Pick-up 19:22:14 4. Vladmir Chagin, stanislav Konopko/Eduard Nokolaev (RUS) Kamaz 22:00:41 5. Joost Van Cauwenberge, Didier Espeel (B) Toyota 23:34:14 6. Ronan Chabot, Gilles Pillot (F) Toyota 25:07:49 7. Ahmed Bin Suqat, Jassim Albalooshi (UAE) Chevrolet 30:10:35 8. Sven Knorr, Torateh Frohlich (D) ORCML 30:44:28 9. Joseph Rosso, Rolf Neugebauer (F/D) Nissan 33:15:36 10. Leonid Novitski, Oleg Tyupenkin (RUS) Mitisubishi 33:47:13
Bikes: 1. Cyril Despres (F) KTM 16:40:48 2. Mark Coma (E) KTM 16:48:55 3. David Castue (F) KTM 17:09:23 4. Pal Anders Ullevalseter (N) KTM 17:20:43 5. Jordi Duran Codina (E) KTM 17:24:45 6. David McBride (GB) Honda 17:39:21 7. Jacek Czachor (PL) KTM 17:52:39 8. Eric Croqueiois (F) Yamaha 18:03:55 9. Miran Stanovnik (SLO) KTM 18:23:04 10. Oscar Polli (I) KTM 18:28:05