UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge 2001
FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies
FIM Cross Country Rallies World Cup -

Schlesser and Despres hang on to win UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge

Schlesser takes FIA World Cross-Country title; Dakar winner Kleinschmidt blows engine; UAE's Bilhili and McBride take superb second places

Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser hung on to his solid overnight advantage to claim a record-breaking fifth victory in the UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge and seal a second successive FIA World Cross-Country title in his Schlesser-Renault Megane.

Meanwhile, Frenchman Cyril Despres crushed the opposition in the Bikes category on his factory KTM 660 Rallye on this final round of the FIA and FIM Cross Country World Cups.

Schlesser, the former World Sportscar champion and Williams Grand Prix driver, led the gruelling five-day event from start to finish to edge out arch rival Jutta Kleinschmidt, who was cruelly sidelined with a blown engine a mere 64 kms from the finish of the final stage.

Schlesser himself survived a late scare before the first passage control today, when he launched the Renault off a six metre sheer drop into soft sand and wrecked the front of the car. This cost him over a minute of his hard earned lead. "It was a scary moment," admitted the new World Champion. "Later I was running behind Jutta and noticed that she had stopped. I didn't know why at the time and didn't realise that she was out of the rally. It's a great feeling to win again."

Kleinschmidt, needing to win this event to become the first woman in history to claim the world title, lost out when the organisers were forced to cancel chunks of each of the day's action to compensate for three successive early morning fog delays. She was into a useful pace this morning in the Mitsubishi before her world title dreams went up in smoke on that final section of today's stage.

"I gave it my best shot today, but it was not meant to be," said the dejected German. "We were running well and ahead of Jean-Louis for a while. I lost a little time around a sand hole and then the engine let go. It's very disappointing, but it's been a very exciting year and a season in motorsport that I will never forget. I must look ahead now to Dakar and the defence of my title."

The UAE's Yayha Bilhili drove a superb race to seal a stunning second place in his Chevrolet Tahoe, Frenchman Jean-Pierre Strugo won the T1 Marathon category in his third-placed Mercedes ML430 and the UAE's Toufic Mitri edged out Australian Bruce Garland for fourth overall in a Land Rover 110.

The Bikes category was dominated throughout the four days by Despres. Classified 24th on the Prologue, he quickly hit the front and drove a tactical and dominant race, even allowing the UAE's David McBride the pleasure of winning the third stage through the Western Deserts of the Rub Al Khali region on Thursday.

"I caught Dave today after about 40 kms," said Despres. "Then I started to race with PG (Lundmark). I would overtake him in the soft sand and he would pass me on the fast sections. Then he had a flat tyre and no spare tube. We left him 50 kms from the finish running on the bare wheel. It's my first time on the bike, a great feeling to win and a fantastic test for Dakar."

McBride eventually finished second overall on his KTM, with the Honda-mounted pairing of Dubai rider Steve Blackney and Frenchman Paul Rivet completing the top four at the Al-Ghantoot Polo Club finish.

Sweden's PG Lundmark was riding a powerful BMW 1150 RR for the first time in preparation for the Arras-Madrid-Dakar Rally. He dropped more than an hour on the opening Manassir Plateau stage on Tuesday, but was soon in a competitive pace until the puncture today when he slipped from fourth to eighth. Dutchman Wim Hutten finished fifth on a KTM.

There was bitter disappointment for Ahmed Al-Fahim, the leading UAE Quad rider on his M4 class-leading Yamaha Raptor, who had started the day in a superb 11th overall. He leapt over a sand ridge and crashed down into a sand hole mid-way through the final stage, retiring cruelly within sight of the finish.

Frenchman Jean-Pierre Fontenay edged out Mitsubishi team mate Kenjiro Shinozuka to take victory in the National Rally running behind the main Desert Challenge.

"It was fantastic to see so many international competitors here this week from all corners of the world," admitted Mohammed bin Sulayem, the chairman of the organising committee. "The world title was decided here and Jean-Louis took his fifth win. This, I'm sure, is a record he will be looking to extend next year."

The event was held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander, with full support from Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Minister of Defence.

The UAE Desert Challenge received the full support of the UAE Government, Dubai and Abu Dhabi Municipalities, the UAE Armed Forces and an impressive list of co-sponsors, including Oasis, Damas, Hyatt, Konica, Aramex, Ignacio Messina, Tahoe (GM), DTCM, Adnoc and Emarat. <pre>

Unofficial final positions after SS4 (Raml Al Buhuth - 324 kms):

Cars 1. Jean-Louis Schlesser (F)/Henri Magne (F) Renault Megane 14h 59m 43s 2. Yayha Bilhili (UAE)/Khaled Al-Kendi (UAE) Chevrolet Tahoe 19h 38m 02s 3. Jean-Pierre Strugo (F)/Yves Ferri (F) Mercedes ML 430 19h 59m 07s 4. Toufic Mitri (UAE)/Mohammed Osman (UAE) Land Rover 110 20h 12m 11s 5. Bruce Garland (AUS)/Stephen Green (AUS) Holden Jackaroo 20h 26m 15s 6. Vladislav Rakityaskiy (RU)/Vladimir Demianenko (RU) Mitsubishi Pajero 20h 37m 18s

National Rally - Cars 1. Jean-Pierre Fontenay (F)/Gilles Picard (F) Mitsubishi Pajero 14h 18m 59s 2. Kenjiro Shinozuka (J)/Thierry Delli-Zotti (F) Mitsubishi Pajero 14h 20m 34s

Bikes 1. Cyril Despres (F) KTM 16h 42m 23s 2. David McBride (UAE) KTM 17h 07m 12s 3. Steve Blackney (UAE) Honda 17h 46m 25s 4. Paul Rivet (F) Honda 18h 07m 00s 5. Wim Hutten (NL) KTM 18h 34m 37s 6. Miran Stanovnik (SLO) Husqvarna 18h 54m 01s 7. Andrea Mayer (D) KTM 19h 04m 10s 8. Grant Robertson (AUS) Honda 19h 15m 48s 9. PG Lundmark (S) BMW 19h 26m 31s

-rally-net.20m.com-

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