Al Mutaiwie, Coma Set The Pace on Day one of Drama in UAE Desert Challenge
UAE driver, Spanish rider win first special stage as Peterhansel and Saby suffer major setbacks
Moreeb Hill, Liwa, UAE: The host country's Khalifa Al Mutaiwei and Spain's Marc Coma set the early pace on a dramatic first leg of the UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge today as the event surged away from Abu Dhabi at the start of five days of spectacular cross country rally action centred on the Liwa Oasis.
Al Mutaiwie, leading the race for the drivers' title in the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies, won the 351-km first special stage by 25 seconds in his BMW X5 from the Nissan Pick-up of Belgium's Gregoire DeMevius.
Coma, meanwhile, was fastest on two wheels, heading fellow-Spaniard Isidre Esteve by two minutes, with Norway's Pål Anders Ullevålseter in fifth and well placed to clinch the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes.
The two men to suffer most on the day were Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel, who saw his chances of a third successive victory in the event destroyed when his Mitsubishi Pajero Montero broke its rear differential, and fellow-countryman Bruno Saby whose Volkswagen Taureg also dropped from contention with mechanical problems
Making it an excellent day for Nissan, Britain's former World Rally Champion Colin McRae was third fastest in the cars battle, just nine seconds behind De Mevius. Another former World Rally Champion, Finland's Juha Kankkunen, making his debut in the Desert Challenge like McRae, was in fourth position but more than five minutes further adrift.
Peterhansel, chashing a hat-trick of successive wins in the Desert Challenge and the only driver capable of beating Al Mutaiwie to the World Cup title, came to a grinding halt 80km from the end of the stage and faced major time penalties as his car headed for repairs at the Liwa bivouac, beside the towering Moreeb Hill sand mountain.
Saby, a former winner of the event, was also left trailing in the desert wilderness when a suspicious noise warning of serious mechanical problems forced him to slow down and eventually stop to investigate the problem.
Al Mutaiwie, who was surprised to find himself in the lead, said: "I pushed a little bit hard today and I'm very happy with the result." De Mevius said: "I'm very, very happy. We had problems with high water temperature so I slowed down on the revs and in the end that produced better traction on the sand."
Partnered by Swedish lady co-driver, Tina Thorner, McRae said at the end of the stage: "Considering we were running only on five cylinders I'm very pleased with the way the first day has gone. The stage was a real mixed bag of dune driving and fast flat out speed."
Like Saby, his Mitsubishi team-mate Hiroshi Masuoka has also found trouble, losing around 15 minutes 2km from the end of the stage with electrical and petrol pump problems. In the morning, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the chief organiser and driving force behind the Desert Challenge, had flagged the 123 cars, bikes and trucks from the start at the Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi. The second special stage gets under way at 6.30am tomorrow (Tuesday)
<pre> Provisonal leading positions after 1st special stage:
Auto 1. Khalifa Al Mutaiwei, Alain Guehennec (UAE /F) BMW T2 3:22:39 2. Gregoire De Mevius, Jacky Dubois (BE/F) Nissan Pick Up T2 3:23:04 3. Colin McRae, Maria Kristina Thorner (GB/S) Nissan Pick Up T2 3:23:13 4. Juha Kankkunen, Juha Repo (FIN) Volkswagen T2 3:28:59 5. Jutta Kleinschmidt, Fabrizia Pons (D) Volkswagen T2 3:29:57 6. Hiroshi Masuoka, Andreas Schulz (J) Mitsubishi Evolution T2 3:36:48 7. Obaid Bin Hathboor (UAE) Chevrolet Pick Up T2 3:49:45 8. Ahmed Bin Suqat, Jassim Ben Gharib (UAE) Cheverolet Pick Up T2 3:57:39 9. Naglis Janis, Innus Aleksandrs (LV) Mitsubishi Pajero T2 4:03:46 10. Mark Powell, Tim Ansell (GB) Land Rover T2 4:04:54
Moto 1. Marc Coma (ES) KTM 660 Rally 3:38:13 2. Isidre Esteve (ES) KTM 660 Rally 3:40:13 3. Marek Dabrowski (PO) KTM 660 Rally 3:46:57 4. David McBride (GB) KTM EXC 3:46:57 5. Pal Anders Ullevalseter (NO) KTM 660 Rally 3:48:47 6. Jacek Czachor (PO) KTM 660 Rally 3:49:54 7. Miran Stanovnik (SLO) KTM 660 Rally R 3:54:46 8. Sean Linton (GB) KTM 660 Rally 3:57:52 9. Tim Trenker (D) KTM Rally 3:59:30 10. Steven Blackney (GB) KTM 660 Rally 4:14:42