After three of the five selective sections on the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel hold a comfortable advantage at the head of the leaderboard. The Toyota Hilux crew have 11 minutes and 18 seconds in hand to second-placed Jakub Przygonski/Timo Gottschalk, with another Toyota crew of Lucio Alvarez/Armand Monleon holding station in third.
The penultimate round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies got underway on Sunday with the first of five long desert stages. In the opening 265-kilometre section Al-Attiyah and Baumel marked down their intentions, winning the stage by three minutes. Monday provided a tough day for the contenders as they headed deep into the Rub Al Khali desert for the longest section of the event. Again, the Qatari/French pairing extended their lead with another fastest time after more than four and a half hours of competitive driving over 318 kilometres. Today, Al-Attiyah – who is in pursuit of a third Desert Challenge victory – again topped the standings with the duo extending their lead to 11 minutes and 18 seconds with two legs remaining.
Przygonski and Gottschalk have been impressive from the outset in the MINI John Cooper Works Buggy. The Polish/German crew have been hot on Al-Attiyah’s heels, finishing second in the first two sections and third today, suffering from a lack of grip. Alvarez and Monleon have been equally consistent and never outside the top three on any of the sections. They are 21 minutes and 33 seconds adrift of the lead but pushing hard to maintain their provisional podium position.
Behind the leading trio, Denis Krotov and Konstantin Zhiltsov are fourth in another John Cooper Works Buggy. Today, as they continue to learn the car, the Russians powered up the leaderboard from ninth after setting fourth fastest time in SS3. Marek Goczał and Lukasz Laskawiec are a fine fifth overall and lead T4 in their BRP Can-Am Maverick. The Poles took the category win in the first and third sections and now head Austin Jones/Gustavo Gugelmin by three minutes and 36 seconds, the American/Brazilian duo losing the lead in today’s section.
Yazeed Al Rajhi, the provisional winner of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas, was running well in fourth but technical problems in the opening section and a broken drive-shaft today have dropped the Saudi Arabian and British co-driver Michael Orr down to seventh. Sebastian Halpern/Bernardo Graue, Kees Koolen/Mirjam Pol and Aron Domzala/Maciej Marton round out the top 10. The T3 category is being led by Saleh Alsaif and Egor Okhotnikov, who are just two seconds ahead of Pavel Lebedev/Kirill Shubin with T3 World Cup front-runner Cristina Gutierrez third in the category.
Two selective sections and 414 kilometres of desert stages remain today and Thursday, prior to the finish at Yas Marina.