Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla wins Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

The final stage of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge got off to a hotly-disputed motocross-style start with the riders starting out in line. The strongest riders had soon bonded into a group over the opening stretches of the 218 kilometre special. The course gradually took to dusty tracks, obliging many competitors to slow the pace down to avoid accidents on very treacherous terrain.

Remaining focused on his well calculated plan of attack, Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla put in the fifth best time on Thursday’s fifth and final stage. Retaining his lead in the overall classification, the Husqvarna rider wrapped up the 2018 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge five minutes and 11 seconds ahead of his nearest rival.

Pablo Quintanilla

“I’m really happy to get the win in Abu Dhabi and it’s been a fantastic start to the new season. This year’s Desert Challenge has been a really tough race from the beginning until the end. During these last few days we battled through extreme heat and the massive sand dunes of the area. There were many high-speed tracks and lots of off-piste sections where navigation was crucial. We also had some great fights with my main competitors and I’m happy I came out on top. I would like to thank all the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing team for the amazing job they did during this week. They are always by my side and this helps me achieve the results I want. It feels good to start the season with a victory and I’m looking forward to the events to come.”

Chile's Pablo Quintanilla wins Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla wins Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

Sam Sunderland second outright

Sam Sunderland claimed third and retained his second place in the overall standings.

The fifth timed stage of the 2018 Desert Challenge covered 218.57km, with riders eventually completing the rally at the famous Yas Marina F1 Circuit in Abu Dhabi. Setting off in groups of 10, motocross style, it was always going to be difficult to make up any time on the other riders.

Sam Sunderland led the first group away and rode at the front for the initial half of the stage. It was Matthias Walkner however that took the lead after the refuelling point, fighting a close battle with rival Kevin Benavides for the win. With the lead changing multiple times over the last 50km, it was the Austrian Walkner who eventually crossed the line first, just a couple of bike lengths ahead.

Keeping a fast and consistent pace on the final stage, whilst staying out of trouble, was enough for Sam Sunderland to retain his second place in the event standings. Missing out on the overall victory by just five-minutes after racing for over 1,300km is a great result for the Brit. Especially after a crash on stage four that resulted in some damage to his bike.

Sam Sunderland

“Second overall, especially after my crash at the Dakar is a really good result. It has felt great to be back on my bike and racing again. I’m a little disappointed with how the rally has gone, with no prologue to set the starting order it was always going to be difficult to stay ahead. The mass-start today went well but riding in such a big group can be dangerous so I just tried to stay out of trouble and not make any mistakes. The bike and the team have been perfect throughout the rally, and apart from my mistake on yesterday’s stage my riding and navigation have been good. It’s encouraging and so I look forward to the next race and I’ll try to go one better.”

Sam Sunderland
Sam Sunderland

Kevin Benavies top Honda – 3rd outright

Monster Energy Honda Team rider Kevin Benavides has managed to finish round one of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship on the rostrum. The Argentinean took third place overall in the rally.

It won’t be a long wait until the next appointment with Monster Energy Honda Team when the squad compete in the Merzouga Rally in Morocco from April 16-20. The team expects to include Joan Barreda back from injury after a wrist operation in February.

Kevin Benavides

“I’ve finished third in Abu Dhabi. I think it’s a good start to the championship. Today we had a motocross-type and over the final 60 kilometres we had a tough battle to decide the stage. I defended my third place very well. I’m happy because I think the speed and pace I had in the race were very good. The sensations aboard the bike were very good too and that leaves me very satisfied. It is the start of the championship, a lot is still to come, but we will work harder to continue improving and that will pay off with victories in the coming races.”

Kevin Benavides
Kevin Benavides

Walkner wins final stage but misses podium

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Matthias Walkner won the fifth and final stage of the 2018 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

With times being so tight in the overall standings, Walkner’s win wasn’t quite enough for him to finish the rally on the podium. Despite this, the reigning Dakar Champion was still happy with the result and his performance in the Liwa Desert.

Matthias Walkner

“The final day’s racing has been really fun – I’m happy to take the stage win after such a good fight. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make up enough time to get onto the podium today, but in general the rally has gone really well. The mass-start this morning had everyone riding together for the first 100km, there was a lot of dust and it was hard to pull away. On the second half of the stage it opened up a lot and I was able to get out in front. Kevin Benavides and myself had a great battle over the last 50km, riding together and swapping the lead many times. I managed to cross the line three metres or so ahead but of course it wasn’t enough to steal third overall. I came into the rally hoping for a top-five, so fourth overall whilst feeling very comfortable on the bike is not a bad result at all. Things look good for the rest of the year.”

Matthias Walkner
Matthias Walkner

Toby Price fourth on stage – P7 outright

A crash on stage two that resulted in a damaged fuel-line put Toby Price on the back foot for the remainder of the rally. Despite the set-back, the Australian pressed on, posting some excellent stage times even while riding injured. A strong fourth on the final stage was enough to move Price one place higher in the standings to seventh.

Toby Price

“I’m happy with how the day went today. Overall, seventh at the end of the rally is not where I had planned to finish, but after my crash earlier in the week I am glad to be here at the finish in one piece. The bike has been perfect throughout the rally and even with the mass start today I was able to gain a little time and move up one spot in the overall. For now, I plan to rest a little and then prepare for the next rally in Morocco. If I can learn a little from my mistakes and stay on two-wheels everything should be good.”

Toby Price
Toby Price

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge 2018 – Stage Five Results
  1. WALKNER Matthias AUT Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team 2:46’40
  2. BENAVIDES Kevin ARG Monster Energy Honda Team +0’0.5
  3. SUNDERLAND Sam GBR Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team +0’19
  4. PRICE Toby AUS Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team +0’46
  5. QUINTANILLA Pablo CHI Husqvarna Factory Rally Team +1’25
  6. GONCALVES Paulo POR Monster Energy Honda Team +2’01
  7. BRABEC Ricky USA Monster Energy Honda Team +2’05
  8. METGE Michael FRA Monster Energy Honda Team +2’13
  9. CORNEJO José Ignacio CHI Monster Energy Honda Team +2’29
  10. GIEMZA Maciej POL KTM Orlen Rally Team +8’27
Final Standings Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge 2018
  1. QUINTANILLA Pablo CHI Husqvarna Factory Rally Team 16:51’11
  2. SUNDERLAND Sam GBR Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team +5’11
  3. BENAVIDES Kevin ARG Monster Energy Honda Team +8’34
  4. WALKNER Matthias AUT Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team +9’36
  5. GONCALVES Paulo POR Monster Energy Honda Team +18’35
  6. BRABEC Ricky USA Monster Energy Honda Team +20’46
  7. PRICE Toby AUS Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team +29’45
  8. CORNEJO José Ignacio CHI Monster Energy Honda Team +30’05
  9. METGE Michael FRA Monster Energy Honda Team +38’19
  10. MELOT Benjamin FRA Duust Rally Team +2:15’37