Legendary cross country rider and driver Stéphane Peterhansel and wife Andrea claimed victory on the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, making history by taking their first FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies win as a husband and wife team. The pair won one of the five selective sections to take the overall win by eight minutes and 48 seconds after 1,284 kilometres of relentless desert competition. Khalid Al Qassimi, co-driven by Xavier Panseri, upheld honours for the UAE with second overall while Poland’s Aron Domzala and Maciej Marton claimed a fine third.
The fifth and decisive leg of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge took the crews on a northerly route from the bivouac towards the capital over a 214.47 kilometre selective section through the desert and over smaller dunes. The Peterhansels started the day with over 18 minutes in hand to Al Qassimi and the husband and wife pairing were able to measure their pace in the final section. They dropped more than 13 minutes to the stage pacesetter to guarantee a trouble-free run to the finish, where the multiple Dakar and cross country winner was delighted to secure victory with Andrea.
“This is an incredible moment!” said Stéphane. “This win is unbelievably special to me and I’m overjoyed to share it with my wife. It was a very physical challenge inside the car, but we made it through and now my mind is on Dakar for us.”
Adding to his comments, Andrea said: “This rally has been about much more than winning. There have been many tough days for us at the Desert Challenge and we have had to work hard and fight for every stage against strong competition. And I can say it has been a pleasure to navigate for Stéphane. I knew he was a talented driver, but now I know for certain! Months of training have led up to this, one of the hardest rallies for both bikes and cars. For sure it was demanding, but if it worked here, it can work anywhere for us.”
Al Qassimi and Panseri were determined to push to the finish and the pair took a solid second position, third in the final section in their Peugeot 3008 DKR. “I have enjoyed today the most, my driving style was flowing with this difficult stage,” commented Al Qassimi. “We took some big risks with the car, pushing it to the limit to post a good time. The car did suffer some front end damage, but we made it across the line due to our relentless momentum all the way to the end.”
Aron Domzala and Maciej Marton, driving a Toyota Hilux Overdrive, finished a fine third overall after a great drive yesterday, as well as benefitting from the misfortunes of those around them. “There was a big pressure for us during the opening of the stage and trying to catch Vasilyev and Al Qassimi was a new experience,” said the Pole. “The last 20 kilometres were really tough and bumpy and my back is really aching now. But I’m relieved and happy to finish, as well as getting a podium.”
The T3 Can Am Maverick crews of Casey Currie/Laurent Lichtleuchter and Reinaldo Varela/Gustavo Gugelmin romped through the stage to claim an impressive fourth and fifth overall, and first and second in the category respectively. They both powered ahead of Vladimir Vasilyev, who dropped from fourth to sixth in the overall standings after some technical issues today. “It was a close battle,” said Casey, of their one minute 12 second winning margin. “We did what we had to do to win. Two crowns here in the Desert. I'll be back next year for my third.”
After a difficult, challenging but enjoyable event, Martin Prokop and Victor Chytka finally arrived at the finish in seventh position, beaten only by Jakub Przygonski in the final section of the event. “What a beautiful rally,” said the Czech Ford Raptor driver. “I’m disappointed with the result, but this can be the nature of the sport. We made mistakes today and after the three mechanical issues that have caused troubles in previous days, it was tough to challenge. If I ever do another rally again though, it will be this one.”
Cyril Despres and Daniel Oliveras claimed a disappointing eighth, finishing today’s section fourth overall. “We had some bad luck on day two with mechanical issues, and this has affected the rest of our rally. It is of course disappointing,” commented Despres back at the Yas Marina Circuit.
Thomas Bell/Patrick McMurren and Khalid Al Jafla/Andrei Rudnitski rounded out the top 10, while Mohammed Al Meer/Alexey Kuzmich took first place in T2 despite all the category contenders amassing huge time penalties. Ibrahim Al Muhana retired his T4 truck for unconfirmed reasons.
After picking up maximum penalties when they were unable to start yesterday’s stage, Jakub Przygonski and Timo Gottschalk finished 18th, but take consolation from a second stage win. “Today was a good stage and I was sure we won it,” said the Polish FIA reigning champion. “We lost our bonnet but it wasn’t an issue. It would have been possible for us to have a good overall position, but after yesterday it feels great to win the stage. Driving a car in the dunes is always tough and will always be difficult; you have to push as much as you can and still respect the dunes.”
The next round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies takes the contenders to Rally Kazakhstan (26 May-1 June).
Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge – Final Classification
1 Stéphane Peterhansel/Andrea Peterhansel MINI John Cooper Works Rally 18hr 03min 45.0sec
2 Sh. Khalid Al Qassimi/Xavier Panseri Peugeot 3008 DKR 18hr 12min 33.0sec
3 Aron Domzala/Maciej Marton Toyota Hilux Overdrive 18hr 50min 01.0sec
4 Casey Currie/Laurent Lichtleuchter Can Am Maverick X3 19hr 43min 18.0sec
5 Reinaldo Varela/Gustavo Gugelmin Can Am Maverick X3 19hr 44min 30.0sec
6 Vladimir Vasilyev/Konstantin Zhiltsov BMW X3 19hr 46min 44.0sec
7 Martin Prokop/Viktor Chytka Ford Raptor RS Cross Country 19hr 56min 05.0sec
8 Cyril Despres/Daniel Oliveras MINI John Cooper Works Buggy 22hr 12min 19.0sec
9 Thomas Bell/Patrick McMurren Nissan Navara 24hr 45min 59.0sec
10 Khalid Al Jafla/Andrei Rudnitski Chevrolet Silverado 24hr 46min 08.0sec