Two familiar names lead the way in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge after a third day of intense rivalry between the world’s top drivers and riders among the spectacular Al Dhafra dunes.
Stephane Peterhansel in an Audi RS Q e-tron will become the most successful driver in the 31-year history of the event if he holds on for a seventh cars win, after extending his overall lead to
30 mins 17 secs from Czech Martin Prokop, the 2018 winner, in a Ford Raptor.
With Poland’s Jakub Przygonski another 55 mins further adrift in third place at the wheel of a Mini John Cooper Works Buggy, the Frenchman is in complete control.
Peterhansel will take nothing for granted, however, particularly after learning that Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rahji had plunged from contention when his Toyota Hilux came to an abrupt halt near the end of the stage, while lying just 11 minutes behind in second place.
The fastest time on the 270km Al Futtaim Toyota Stage 2 was set by defending champion Nasser Al Attiyah in another Toyota Hilux, with nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb 5mins 16secs away in his Prodrive Hunter.
For a second day, however, Al Attiyah and Loeb were battling largely for World Rally-Raid Championship points, with their hopes of victory in the event already ended by opening day problems which cost them 20 hours, and two hours, respectively.
As far back as 1996, Peterhansel scored his first victory in the rally on two wheels. Content with today’s third fastest time, he knows the terrain almost as well as Sam Sunderland, who lived in the UAE for ten years and is the new overall bikes leader.
While defending champion Matthias Walkner won the Al Futtaim Toyota stage on a KTM, Sunderland’s second fastest time on his GasGas gave him a big push towards a third Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge title, with two more desert stages remaining.
He has an overall advantage of 4 mins 24 secs from Walkner, with Argentina’s overnight leader, Kevin Benavides just four seconds further behind in third place.
Emirati rider Abdulaziz Ahli continues to dominate in the quads on his Yamaha Raptor. The defending champion ended the day holding a massive cushion of 1hr 36 mins 59 secs over Slovakia’s Juraj Varga.
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge takes place under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in Al Dhafra Region.
The rally’s strategic partners are the Ruler's Representative Court Al Dhafra Region, the Ministry of Defence, Abu Dhabi Sports Council, ADNOC Distribution, Al-Futtaim Toyota, Abu Dhabi Police, Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi Aviation, National Ambulance, Abu Dhabi Municipality, Abu Dhabi Distribution Co., Al Dhafra Region Municipality, Al-Ain Water, Abu Dhabi Sports TV, Civil Defence and the Abu Dhabi Waste Management Center.