PDespres, Sunderland set early pace at ADDCageTitle - GulfToday

Despres, Sunderland set early pace at ADDC

Desert

Cyril Despres in action on the opening day of Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

Abu Dhabi: Cyril Despres and Sam Sunderland emerged as the early pacesetters in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge (ADDC) powered by Nissan on Sudnay as a heavy sandstorm turned the opening leg into a battle for survival.

High winds churning up a wall of sand made visibility a constant problem as the 262km Yas Marina Circuit Stage wound its way through the dunes towards it conclusion at the bivouac, the rally’s desert base for the next four days on the fringe of the Rub Al Khali.

Partnered by Spain’s Daniel Oliveras in a Mini John Cooper Works Buggy, Frenchman Despres, five time a Desert Challenge bikes winner, made a positive start in pursuit of his first cars triumph at his second attempt on four wheels.

He completed the stage holding a 5 mins 45 secs advantage over Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke and Belgian co-driver Tom Colsoul in a Toyota Hilux Overdrive.

Chasing a sixth cars victory, eight years after his last and this time with wife and former rally star Andrea as co-driver, Stephane Peterhansel was just 1 min 58 secs further away in third in a Mini John Cooper Works Rally.

Czech defending champion Martin Prokop and Viktor Chytka held fourth in a Ford Raptor RS from Dubai Baja winners Jakub Przygonski and Timo Gottschalk in another Mini.

The UAE’s Khalid Al Qassimi and Xavier Panseri completed the top six in an Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR.

While conditions were thoroughly demanding for the 34 drivers who started the second round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies, they were particularly tough on the 33 bike and quads riders contesting the opening round of the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship.

Sunderland, the 2017 Desert Challenge and Dakar Rally winner, produced a hugely impressive performance to lead by 6 mins 9 secs from Andrew Short, the Texan quickly making an impact in cross country rallying after a rock star career in American Supercross and Motocross.

Chile’s Jose Cornejo was 37 seconds away in third with another young rising star, Argentinian Argentinean Luciano Benavides, 2 mins 21 secs further behind, just ahead of elder brother Kevin.

UAE-based Mark Ackerman completed the top six while top Emirati rider Mohammed Al Balooshi had a rough day, finishing more than 42 minutes off the pace in eighth position.

“It was a day when we saw just how tough and demanding the Desert Challenge can be” said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE and FIA Vice President for Sport.

Taking place under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in Al Dafrah Region, the event is supported Abu Dhabi Aviation, Abu Dhabi Police, ADNOC, Al Ain Water, Al Dhafra Region Ruler’s Representative Court, National Ambulance, Nissan, United Arab Emirates Armed Forces and Yas Marina Circuit.

Reaching the end of the stage, Despres said: “It has been a long time since I started a stage with a storm and strong winds as we had here today. I could not see the crest of the dunes easily. It was challenging.