Race For The Title Hots Up At Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

Schlesser and Coma top the car and bike rankings

UAE’s Al Kitbe and Husseini battle it out in the quads

Female racers experience the ups and downs of desert racing

ABU DHABI (UAE). Wednesday, April 4, 2012: On a day that saw temperatures in the desert hitting around 40oc, Jean-Louis Schlesser (cars) and Marc Coma (bikes) finished on top of the overall rankings after the unique, double-stage Qasr Al SarabLeg of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

At 63 years old, and with many decades of racing behind him, there is no doubting Schlesser’s remarkable skill at endurance racing. Over the first three days of the rally, the Frenchman has demonstrated that youth and fitness are no substitute for experience in such a testing event as the Desert Challenge.

Schlesser’s Sonangol Buggy registered a narrow 2m 07s win over the UAE’s Khalifa Al-Mutaiwei and his MINI All4 racing on today’s Qasr Al Sarab leg of the rally. This was enough to help him stretch his overall lead to 26m 43s. Ilya Kusnetsov took third place on Leg 3, while Patrick Sireyjol of France leapfrogged Emirati rally star, Yahya Bel Helei, to move into third position overall.

Speaking at the end of Leg 3, Schlesser said: “This is a very specific type of race and long stages and extreme hot weather have resulted in softer sand, making it even more difficult to drive. But the race is going really well as I am leading, and when you lead a race like this, it’s great.”

Spaniards once again hold all three of the top positions in the overall bike rankings after the third leg. Reigning Desert Challenge champion, Coma enjoyed a blistering day in the sun to overhaul fellow countryman Joan Barreda-Bort and establish an overall lead of 8m 27s. Jordi Villadoms currently holds the final podium place.

Sitting in seventh place overall, Honda rider and UAE resident Sean Gaugain is the highest placed competitor from the Middle East, followed by top Arabic rider, Mohammed Balooshi in 15th spot, riding for the KTM-UAE Rally Team.

The 2012 battle for the title of best quad biker continues to hot up with Obaid Al Kitbe and Sebatian Husseini, both from the UAE, continuing to slog it out for top spot. Husseini took the honours on Leg 3 ahead of the Emirati, but Al Kitbe continues to hold onto top spot, albeit with a reduced lead of just over 12 minutes. Lukasz Laskawiec from Poland is over 1h 30m behind in third place, but only just ahead of women’s world champion, Camelia Liparoti.

The Desert Challenge is renowned across the world as one of the world’s most difficult, technically demanding endurance rally. For this reason alone, it attracts racers from across the globe determined to conquer the towering sand dunes and rough terrain of the Western Region. And in 2012, more female competitors than ever before have entered, with the aim of proving themselves in this toughest of sporting events.

Six women started this year’s event, with competitors from Bulgaria, Germany and two from Italy joined by UAE residents Tonya Colson in the bikes and Sheila Hutton-Barker in the cars.

Colson is this year making her Desert Challenge debut after years of being involved with rallying behind the lens of a camera. Battling injuries sustained on Leg 1 and 3, she commented: “It’s a lot tougher than I thought it would be. The mental aspect is the most difficult, and is what I’ve struggled with most, but I’m going to get back on my bike and continue to try to learn a little each day.”

On the other hand, 44-year old German racer, Andrea Mayer is no stranger to the world’s ultimate desert rally, having previously competed in the car and bike categories. “The quad is the easiest vehicle I’ve driven here, but it’s physically more demanding than driving a car,” she said. “The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is my favourite rally. The dunes here are the most difficult in the world, yet they are also so beautiful.”

Zornitsa Todorova from Bulgaria was making her ADDC debut: “I have never tried desert racing before. You can tell this rally is hard, with so many racers dropping out,” she explained. “I had an accident in first leg and injured my elbow. I tried the second leg, but pushed too hard and couldn’t continue. I have to say, the medical team here is the best I have ever seen, and the organisation is fantastic.”

Over five exhausting days that will push them to their physical and mental limits, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge competitors will tackle some of the toughest terrain on the planet – the massive sand dunes of the Empty Quarter desert of the Western Region. The successful participants will cross the finishing line in Abu Dhabi on Friday, 6th April.

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, whose President, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, is also the founder of the rally. It is held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Western Region and features a high-profile line-up of supporters, including the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, Nissan and ADNOC.