UAE Desert Challenge: Series stage five report





*  Ullesvalseter and Chicherit seal stage wins

* Gaugain wins 450cc class
* Husseini top quad in ninth overall
* HE Ahmed Al Sayegh of ADTA at ceremonial finish

ABU DHABI (UAE) Friday March 27 2009: Spain's Marc Coma opted to start the final Oasis stage of the 2009 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge from fourth position on the road and the decision paid off. The Spaniard clinched his third victory in four years on the opening round of the FIM Cross-Country World Championship.

Meanwhile, Frenchman Guerlain Chicherit and Swedish co-driver Tina Thorner romped to a comfortable victory in the car category in their BMW X3 CC. In second place is the UAE's Yahya Al Helai, with co-driver Khalid Al Kendi.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the FIA Vice-President of Sport; President of the Automobile Touring Club of the United Arab Emirates (ATCUAE) and the chairman of the event's Organising Committee was joined by His Excellency, Ahmed Al Sayegh, board member, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), dignitaries and members of the public at the ceremonial finish in the capital to welcome home the 54 finishing vehicles. Seventy-six cars, bikes, quads, and two trucks tackled the five-day Desert Challenge.

Adverse weather conditions failed to stop the final 275.93 selective section through the Abu Dhabi desert around Humeem and Arjan. Coma was the class of the field in the tricky conditions, where strong winds hampered progress and shifting sand reduced visibility.

Riding a factory KTM 690 R, the two-time winner of the Dakar Rally eventually finished 5minutes 42seconds ahead of France's Cyril Despres, with Norwegian Pal-Anders Ullesvalseter securing the final podium place with the fastest time on the final selective section. Coma took advantage of a new FIM regulation, which permits the leading driver in the overall classification to choose his starting position on the final day.

"It's a great feeling to take a second win of the season and to keep up that winning run," said Coma. It means a lot to me and I want to keep working hard and improving. Today was very difficult. The first part of the stage was in a sand storm and you could not see the dunes or the track too well. The last section was faster, but there were some difficult sand spits to deal with. Because of the weather it was another road book today!"

Chicherit won every stage in the car category and reached the finish at the ADIMSC in Abu Dhabi with a winning margin of 2h 23m 45s over the Nissan Patrol pairing of the UAE's Al Helai and Al Kendi.

"Last week I was taking part in a World Cup competition in extreme skiing and this week I am winning a World Cup rally in the Middle East -- all in the space of 10 days. From one extreme to the other," said Chicherit.

"There was a sand storm today for around half of the stage and the wind meant that visibility was down to just metres in places. We stopped early in the stage to let some pressure out of the tyres. Later I heard a noise on the car and stopped at the final PC just to check everything was okay. This is a great feeling to win this rally. This result is for my team."

Al Helai said he set out determined for a trophy win: "Today we took it easy with no risks. I did not want to push. We could not catch the BMW so we wanted to make sure we finished second."

Abdullah Al Herais and Haleem Bin Zayed finished third overall in another Nissan Patrol and Ali Al Shawi and Ahmad Malik were fourth, giving the host nation three of the top four positions in the overall car classification.

South African rider Sean Gaugain held off the challenge from fellow countryman Mark Ackerman to win the 450cc motorcycle category and Sebastien Husseini achieved his goal of a top 10 finish and the honour of being the leading quad rider in ninth overall.

"At the start of the week I had the goal of reaching the top 10," said Husseini. "It was realistic and I am delighted to have achieved that. The road book was extra important today. Because of the weather some extra sand spits had formed overnight and it was important to keep your concentration."

"We had a fascinating battle in the motorcycle category this year and I would like to congratulate Marc on his third success here on the Desert Challenge," said Sulayem.

"Congratulations also to Guerlain Chicherit on a second win for the X-raid team in two years and to all the other finishers. The organising team did a superb job in making the event's switch from November to March a success at such short notice and I also send a big thanks to all our sponsors, most notably our title sponsor and host, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority."

Leg five -- the story of the final day

Despite fierce winds and shifting sand around the bivouac at Tal Mureeb on Thursday evening, an inspection of the visibility and the day's weather forecast dictated that the final selective section was given the go-ahead.

Thirty-four bikes and quads, 19 cars and one truck started the final section and the heat was on Despres to make in-roads into Coma's 1m 50s overall advantage. But the Spaniard had opted to start as the fourth bike rider on the road -- using a ruling in the FIM regulations to maximum advantage - and was able to follow the tracks of Gaugain, Despres and Jakub Przygonski in front. It was a tactical masterstroke by the Spaniard and he had extended his lead by over two and a half minutes at the first checkpoint.

Ackerman was the form rider through the second PC and held a virtual stage lead of nearly four minutes, as Coma eased his pace to conserve his bike and the overall lead and Despres slowed still further. Reid was on a charge in the car category and passed a cautious Chicherit to take the stage advantage when the Frenchman stopped to lower his tyre pressures.

By PC3, at Nisab, Ackerman held a comfortable stage lead and Coma remained on course for victory. Ullesvalseter eventually squeezed through to clinch the stage win, but Ackerman's performance was enough to displace Przygonski for fifth overall.

Chicherit confirmed the X-raid team's second win on the Desert Challenge in the space of five months, despite stopping to check a niggling noise from the rear of his car at the final checkpoint. But Reid lost a potential stage win with mechanical problems within sight of the finish.

Proper hydration was a crucial factor in maintaining concentration and fitness during the five punishing legs of this year's event and Oasis water was a vital sponsor under the circumstances.

"Oasis have been a supporter of the Desert Challenge for many years," said Emily Billotti, NFPC - Events and PR Manager, Oasis Water. "It is on events such as this one, where we see day-time temperatures in the mid-forties, that we realise the importance of good body hydration and Oasis is delighted to be the official water supplier for the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and the sponsor of the final stage."

Alongside Oasis, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge 2009 received the backing of key players, including, ADNOC, Beach Rotana - Abu Dhabi, etisalat, Explorer, Hertz, Lambda Electronics, TAG Heuer and the ADIMSC.

Overall positions after Leg 5 (unofficial @ 13.40hrs):

1. Guerlain Chicherit (F)/Tina Thorner (S) BMW X3 CC 20h 54m 47s
2. Yayha Al Helai (UAE)/Khalid Al Kendi (UAE) Nissan Patrol 23h 19m 32s
3. Abdullah Al Herais (UAE)/Haleem Bin Zayed (UAE) Nissan Patrol 24h 37m 07s
4. Ali Al Shawi (UAE)/Ahmad Malik (UAE) Nissan Patrol 26h 17m 54s
5. David Mabbs (GB)/Xavier Caminada (F) Toyota FJ Cruiser 26h 40m 23s
6. Joseph Rosso (F)/Jean-Marie Lurquin (B) Nissan Pathfinder 29h 54m 17s

1. Marc Coma (E) KTM 690 R 20h 18m 00s
2. Cyril Despres (F) KTM 690 R 20h 23m 42s
3. Pal-Anders Ullesvalseter (N) KTM 690 R 20h 25m 36s
4. Sean Gaugain (ZA) Honda CRF 450X 20h 46m 11s
5. Mark Ackerman (ZA) KTM 450 20h 49m 53s
6. Jakub Przygonski (PL) KTM 690 R 20h 50m 32s


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About this article
Series Cross-Country Rally
Drivers Tina Thorner , Jean-Marie Lurquin , Cyril Despres , Marc Coma , Guerlain Chicherit , Jakub Przygonski