COMA RE-PASSES DESPRES IN FASCINATING GAME OF CAT AND MOUSE IN ABU DHABI DESERT CHALLENGE BMW'S GUERLAIN CHICHERIT IN CONTROL IN THE CARS * Echtibi and Gaugain shine in Hertz stage; Mabbs holds fifth overall * UAE's Al Husseini leads...
COMA RE-PASSES DESPRES IN FASCINATING GAME OF CAT AND MOUSE IN ABU DHABI DESERT CHALLENGE
BMW'S GUERLAIN CHICHERIT IN CONTROL IN THE CARS
* Echtibi and Gaugain shine in Hertz stage; Mabbs holds fifth overall
* UAE's Al Husseini leads the quads; Injury woe for Cummings
* Extra strong winds and hampered visibility demand top skill
TAL MUREEB, ABU DHABI (UAE) Thursday March 26 2009: Spain's Marc Coma regained the overall lead in the motorcycle category of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, as surviving crews completed the fourth Hertz loop stage through the emirate's Empty Quarter to the south and east of Humeem on Thursday.
Coma caught his great French rival Cyril Despres in the desert and the pair raced together to the finish of the penultimate stage of the UAE's premier off-road event, which has the title sponsorship of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA).
The result sets up the prospect of a 'winner-takes-all' showdown between the world's top two cross-country riders in the final off-road section back to Abu Dhabi on Friday. Despres will start the final stage two minutes behind his rival and will need to catch the Spaniard and close to within nine seconds at the end of the special to win the event for a record-breaking fifth time.
"It was not easy at all today," said Coma. "The wind was strong and the visibility was difficult for all the riders. It was a case of finding a safe pace. Tomorrow is a big day. It will decide the rally. All I can do is ride my best. If he catches me he wins. I will try to make sure that he doesn't catch me."
BMW X-raid's Guerlain Chicherit and Swedish co-driver Tina Thorner maintained their dominance in the car category. The Frenchman produced a master-class performance on the day's 314.95km timed section to take a fifth successive stage win. The pair now head into the final stage a staggering 2hours 21minutes 42seconds in front of the second-placed Nissan Patrol crew of the UAE's Yayha Al Helai and Khalid Al Kendi.
Local quad entrant Obaid Echtibi and South African rider Sean Gaugain were the stars of the day, with Echtibi winning the stage outright on his quad and Gaugain recording second position on his Honda. Sebastien Husseini finished the day in fourth and continues to lead the quad category.
Britain's David Mabbs and French co-driver Xavier Caminada have made their presence felt on the leader board in a Toyota FJ Cruiser - eighth place on the day's stage guaranteed that the Dubai-based Briton starts the final day in fifth overall.
Leg four -- the story of the day
Despres and Coma continued their battle of cat and mouse through the fourth Hertz stage, which featured passage controls (PC) at the 78km, 109km, 154km and 243km points and headed through the region of Abu Dhabi's Empty Quarter to the south and east of Humeem.
Coma had gained 1m 31s on his rival through PC1 and extended his lead to 1m 47s through PC2, although South Africa's Sean Gaugain was the man in form on the day's stage. He headed Ullesvalseter by 17 seconds through 109km. Australia's Youcef Cummings was unable to restart after it emerged that he had aggravated an old collarbone injury during the third stage on Wednesday
Ahmed Bin Soughat's third stage performance moved him up to 11th in the overall classification in the cars' category, but Chicherit began to pull well clear of his rivals through the opening kilometres of leg four. Bin Soughat and Al Helai were involved in a tense duel for second place in a pair of Nissan Patrols, as Chicherit reached the service point in two hours and romped home to record yet another stage win.
South Africa's Mark Ackerman began to turn up his pace through the middle of the stage and he and stage leader Gaugain were the form riders into the third checkpoint. Coma continued to shadow Despres through the sandy wastelands and his virtual stage lead over the Frenchman rose to 1m 54s.
Echtibi and Husseini benefited from the tactics of the leading duo and they surged through the closing kilometres to record the first and fourth fastest times on the day's stage. "I passed Sebastien and pushed on hard after the refuel, but to win the stage is fantastic," said a stunned Echtibi.
Tomorrow is the final day of this year's Desert Challenge and surviving teams will tackle one 275.93km selective section in a total route of 419.37km, according to event Chairman Mohammed Ben Sulayem, FIA Vice-President for Sport and President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the United Arab Emirates (ATCUAE).
The single competitive section replaces the two shorter tests that have been used in previous years and the action finishes 60.44km from rally headquarters. Teams will then take a road liaison section to the ADIMSC in Abu Dhabi, where the ceremonial finish is scheduled from 4pm onwards.
The Desert Challenge has the backing of key players, including the event's title sponsor, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), Nissan, ADNOC, Beach Rotana - Abu Dhabi, etisalat, Explorer, Hertz, Lambda Electronics, Oasis Water, TAG Heuer and the ADIMSC.