Alphand makes stunning comeback

French driver Luc Alphand produced a stunning comeback performance to take the lead in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge powered by Nissan Sunday as Australian rider Toby Price snatched the early advantage in the bikes category.

Partnered by German co-driver Andreas Schultz in a Buggy Ford 2WD, Alphand took the opening 276 km Yas Marina Circuit Stage by 1 min 19.8 secs from the recent Dubai International Baja winners, Poland’s Jakub Przygonski and Belgian co-driver Tom Colsoul in Mini John Cooper.

It was a remarkable display by Alphand, the former World Cup downhill skiing champion who won both the Desert Challenge and the Dakar Rally in 2006 but retired from competitive motor sport eight years ago after suffering serious injuries in a motor bike accident.

Ending the first leg in third place in the cars category another 1 min 48.7secs away were Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Seaidan accompanied by Russia’s Aleksei Kuzmich in a Toyota Hilux Overdrive.

The UAE’s defending champion, Khalid Al-Qassimi, finished the day in fourth place, just under nine minutes off the lead alongside French co-driver Xavier Panseri in their Peugeot Abu Dhabi Racing Team 3008 DKR.

Czechs Martin Prokop and Jan Tomanek in a Ford F-150 Evo and two-times Desert Challenge champions Vladimir Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov in a Mini Cooper rounded off the top six, while Emiratis Khalid Al-Jafla and Ahmad Malik in a Nissan Trophy Truck finished the day in 10th.

Price, who captured the Desert Challenge title in 2016, produced an impeccable display to take the stage by 2 mins 51 secs from Dubai-based defending champion Sam Sunderland, with reigning Dakar Rally winner Matthias Walkner of Austria completing a KTM 1-2-3 another 4 mins 29 secs away.

Argentinian Kevin Benavides on a Honda, Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla riding a Husqvarna and American Ricky Brabec on another Honda completed the top six.

With the world’s top cross country rally stars setting a tremendous pace up front, leading UAE rider Mohammed Al-Balooshi, winner of the recent Dubai International Baja, finished the leg in ninth place.

Taking place under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in Al Dafrah Region, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge forms the third round of the 2018 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and buggies and the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes and quads.

Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi, Italian Eugenio Amos and Austrian Christopher Rosenberger had all started the day with five minute penalties after missing Saturday’s super stage because of the late arrival of their trio of Minis in the UAE.

Source: Gulf News