The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge has produced many final day dramas down the years, and another thrilling climax is assured as the rally returns from the spectacular
Al Dhafra dunes to the UAE capital.
The bottom line following today’s 243km Abu Dhabi Aviation Stage 4 is that it will take a spectacular turnaround to prevent a seventh cars triumph for Stephane Peterhansel, but the battle for victory on two
wheels remains wide open.
Peterhansel, in an Audi RS Q e-tron, has increased his overall lead to 33 mins 21secs from the 2018 champion, Czech Martin Prokop, in a Ford Raptor, and needs only to avoid disaster on the last day to become the most successful driver in the event’s 31-year history.
It is a completely different story on two wheels, with the top four separated by just 2 mins 34 secs, and a succession of other leading factory team riders waiting to pounce following today’s memorable first ever stage win for Argentina’s Luciano Benavides. He lies ninth on a Husqvarna, 11 mins off the pace, but was ecstatic after a brilliant ride.
Sam Sunderland’s lead on his GasGas was slashed by more than 4 mins to just 23 secs from Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla on a Honda, and Australian Toby Price is just 1 min 19 further away, ahead of American star Ricky Brabec on another Honda.
For a third day, defending champion Nasser Al Attiyah in a Toyota Hilux was easily the fastest driver on the stage, going 3 mins 1 sec quicker than the Prodrive Hunter of Sebastien Loeb, his major rival in the tussle for the World Rally-Raid Championship title.
Problems over the first three days for Al Attiyah, Loeb, Poland’s Jakub Przygonski and Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rahji sent the T1 quartet out of contention this week, opening the door for one of the lightweight prototypes towards an overall top three finish in Abu Dhabi tomorrow.
Holding the provisional podium spot at the end of the leg in a Can-AM Maverick was Francisco Lopez. The Chilean lost 30 minutes with a broken drive shaft the previous day, but now has an advantage of 9 mins 33 secs over Spain’s Cristina Gutierrez in an Overdrive OT3.
Claiming fifth overall is Poland’s T4 leader Marek Goczal in a Can-AM Maverick, with his fellow- countryman Przygonski completing the top six for the T1 contingent in his Mini John Cooper Works Buggy.
Meanwhile, there should be no more emphatic winner in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge tomorrow than Emirati rider Abdulaziz Ahli, the defending quads champion on a Yamaha Raptor who is 1hr 48 mins 32 secs clear of 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.