Vasilyev moves within sight of victory in Abu Dhabi Challenge.

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With four stages complete, Vladmir Vasilyev is holding the lead and could potentially win the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

Abu Dhabi, UAE, 9 April, 2014: Russian Vladimir Vasilyev moved within sight of his first victory in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Powered by Nissan today, as Marc Coma regained his lead in the bikes category after team-mate Sam Sunderland plunged from contention with mechanical failure.

Partnered by Konstantin Zhilstov in a Mini, Vasilyev recorded the second fastest time on the spectacular 239-km Nissan Patrol Special Stage 4 to open up a lead of 35 mins 36 secs from Poland’s Adam Malysz and Rafal Marton in a Toyota Hilux.

Lying second overnight, the Polish crew of Marek Dabrowski and Jacek Czachor saw their hopes of at least a podium finish shattered when their Toyota Hilux rolled on the stage, with the car landing on its wheels and reaching the finish well down the field.

Dabrowski’s misfortune saw Dutchman Eric Van Loon climb to third in his Mini, with the UAE’s evergreen Yahya Alhelei rising to fourth place in his new Nissan Pick Up, despite having to reduce his speed because of overheating.

Khalifa Al Mutaiwei
Khalifa Al Mutaiwei

Photo by: Marian Chytka

Along with Dabrowski, the other major casualty on the Nissan Patrol stage was Dubai-based English rider Sunderland who was increasing his overnight lead when his KTM was halted by a broken swingarm, putting him out for the day. Mechanics were later assessing the damage to decide if Sunderland could re-start on the final stage.

His departure saw KTM team-mate and seven-times Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge winner Coma end the stage leading by 1 min 31 secs from Portugal’s reigning FIM world champion, Paulo Goncalves, whose Honda team-mate Joan Barreda Bort was 4 mins 18 secs further adrift after his second stage win in a row. The UAE’s Mohammed Al Balooshi produced another impressive performance to climb to sixth overall.

Vasilyev reached the end of the Nissan Patrol stage to say: “It was a really beautiful stage, but hard with some really high and steep dunes to climb. This year it is more difficult because the ground is hard after the rains.”

Alhelei, who had desperately wanted to win the Nissan stage, said: “I drove with a flat tyre for the last 30km yesterday and damaged the head gasket. We changed it overnight and I was worried that the car might overheat today.

“Everything was ok up to the second passage control but then the temperature started going up so I had to reduce my speed. I just wanted to win the Nissan prize for the fastest on this stage.”

The stage had a dramatic mass start for the bikes, with the top 15 riders getting away together and Sunderland was quickly increasing his lead before disaster struck 22 kms later.

“It's unfortunate for me but this is racing, and it makes winning that much more special,” he said. “You have to take the highs with the lows. Our team is still going well, Marc is doing really well and we hope for the best possible outcome. Riding with Marc has been a great experience and I'm learning a lot from him. Obviously he's hugely competitive.”

Coma said: “The group start together on the flat was very nice, but the pace went up and Paulo pushed a lot and I tried to follow. I’m happy with the stage.”

Completing the stage, Goncalves declared: “The pace was a bit slow to begin with up to refuel then it got faster. I got stuck once and lost a bit of time. Now I I'm a few minutes off Marc overall but we will see how it goes tomorrow.”

Barreda Bort said: “I’m very happy today. The mass start was good and a few of us rode together up to refuel, then I pushed forward and focused on a good victory for the stage, and gained a few seconds overall. Unfortunately I broke my cable which cost me about five mins overall. Anyway I will try hard to make up more time tomorrow.”

Al Balooshi, better known as a multiple title-winning motocross rider, said: “It was tough today because of the high pace, and I was happy to keep up. But in the last 30km the leaders pulled away and there was too much dust. The mass start helped me as I did not need to navigate.”

Reigning FIM quads champion Rafal Sonik of Poland increased his lead in the quads division to 42 mins 52 secs from Russian rider Sergey Karyakin and said: “In the mass start I ate a lot of dust from other riders which I think must have gotten into my air filter because three times the engine just stopped and I went over the handle bars.

“Fortunately it's soft sand so nothing bad happened. But I lost a few minutes. It's not a big deal. We will just have to soak and clean the filters again and we will be all good for the last stage tomorrow.”

Lying third, last year’s quads winner, Qatari Mohammed Abu Isa, said: “The mass start was very good for us because we got to start with all the leading bikers which set us a strong pace. I'm really tired now but I think I'm catching up on Sonik. I lost a lot of time after I had some problems on SS1, but I caught up a few minutes on him today.”

The 24th edition of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region.

The rally is the third round of the 2014 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars, and the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes.

The 244-km Abu Dhabi Aviation Special Stage 5 brings the event to its conclusion tomorrow (Thursday), with the surviving drivers and riders reaching the finish at Yas Marina Circuit at 4pm.

Used by the route planning team to create the desert stages, the Nissan Patrol, “Hero of All terrain in Life”, is the official vehicle of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge for an 11th year.

The rally’s line-up of strategic partners and supporters includes the Ruler’s Court in the Western Region, Western Region Municipality, Abu Dhabi Municipality, the UAE Army, Abu Dhabi Police, Nissan, Yas Marina Circuit, ADNOC, Abu Dhabi Aviation, Al Ain Water, Abu Dhabi Waste Management, Rotana and Centro Hotels – Yas Island, Qasr Al Sarab Resort, the Tourism Development and Investment Company, TAG Heuer, Explorer and DP World.

Provisional leading positions after Nissan Patrol Special Stage 4 Cars

1. Vladimir Vasilyev / K. Zhilstov (RUS /RUS) MINI All 4 Racing T1 14:35.38

2. Adam Malysz / Rafal Marton (POL / POL) Toyota Hilux T1 15:11.14

3. Miroslav Zapletal / Maciej Marton (CZE / POL) Hummer H3 T1 15:41.14

4. Yahya Alhelei / Khalid Alkendi (ARE / ARE) Nissan Pick UP T1 15:45.07

5. Stephan Schott / A. Schulz (DEU / DEU) MINI All 4 Racing T1 15:59.40

6. Eric Van Loon / W. Rosegaar (NED / NED) MINI All 4 Racing T1 16:27.37

7. Bauyrzhan Issabayev / Vladimir Demyanenko (KAZ/ RUS) T1 16:53.37

8. Reinaldo Varela / Gustavo Gugelmin (BRA / BRA) Toyota Hilux T1.1 17:58.50

9. Denis Berezovskiy / Ignat Falkov (KAZ / KAZ) Nissan Patrol T2.1 18:23.54

10. Aidyn Rakhimbayev / A.Nikolaev (KAZ / RUS) MINI All 4 Racing T1.2 18:27.17

Bikes:

1. Marc Coma (SPA) KTM 450 Rally Replica 14:12.10

2. Paulo Goncalves (POR) Honda 450 CRF Rally 14:13.41

3. Joan Barreda Bort (SPA) Honda 450 CRF Rally 14:17.59

4. Jordi Viladoms (SPA) KTM 450 Rally Replica 14:45.01

5. Miran Stanovnik (SLO) KTM 450 Rally Replica 15:40.34

6. Mohammed Al Balooshi (UAE) KTM 450 Rally Replica 15:43.11

7. Helder Rodrigues (POR) Honda CRF 450 16:10.53

8. Rafal Sonik (POL) Honda 700 TRX 16:44.52

9. Oliver Lloyd (GBR) Speedbrain 450 Rally 16:50.27

10. Santosh CS (IND) KTM 450 Rally Replica 16:57.47

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Series RALLY
Article type Leg report
Tags abu dhabi challenge, mini cooper, rally, vladmir vasilyev