Sam Sunderland has kicked off his 2022 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in fine form with a Stage 1 win, no doubt with an eye on adding the ADDC title to his Dakar win with GasGas.
After Saturday’s Prologue, the first real stage of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge brought the riders to the bivouac situated in the middle of the Liwa desert after a 262-kilometre special raced over dunes and tracks. Almost half of the decisive section for the day’s classification took place over dunes, alternating with fast-paced sandy stretches of track.
Sam Sunderland was the 28th rider to enter Sunday’s 262 km special. Playing catch-up and aiming to close in on the riders ahead of him, the Brit pushed hard right from the start line, navigating well through the mixture of dunes and faster tracks.
Up to second-fastest by the first checkpoint, the reigning Dakar Champion didn’t ease off, fighting for the lead throughout the remainder of the stage. Bringing his GASGAS RC 450F safely to the finish in three hours and 18 minutes was enough for Sunderland to clinch the stage win by just over two minutes. The result places him fourth overall, just under one-minute down on the provisional rally leader.
Sam Sunderland – P1
“We’re back to it – not that long after Dakar. It’s always cool to come here to Abu Dhabi, the race is always good, and I like to ride in the dunes. The plan after yesterday’s prologue was to push on today’s stage, which I managed to do. I didn’t gain back quite as much time as I would have liked, and I’m leading out tomorrow, so hopefully I can do a good job with the navigation. The bike is working great and I’m looking forward to stage two.”
It was Kevin Benavides who came out as the top KTM rider on stage one from the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi to Hameem. Taking a measured approach, the Argentinian was able to increase his speed towards the end of the stage to claim second at the finish. The result puts the 2021 Dakar Champion in a good position for Monday’s stage two.
Kevin Benavides – P2
“It feels good to get the race started. It was a really physical day today with plenty of dunes, but the bike felt good and after taking some time to get comfortable, I was able to really push towards the end of the stage. Hopefully, if I can keep this momentum up for the rest of the event, I should be able to secure a solid result. I start third tomorrow, so it gives me a good chance to chase down the two guys in front.”
Finishing third for the day was Husqvarna mounted Michael Docherty, trailing Sunderland by 2m14s for the stage. Docherty holds the current provisional standings lead after the prologue and Stage 1, by 23-seconds.
Matthias Walkner has also got his ADDC off to a strong start, going quickest on the prologue before backing up that performance with a fourth-place finish on stage one. Walkner will be the fifth rider to enter stage two – the first leg of this year’s marathon stage – and as such will be looking to push to make up time on those ahead, while also conserving himself and his KTM 450 RALLY for what promises to be a challenging couple of days in the desert.
Matthias Walkner – P4
“Yeah it was a nice first day for me. It was quite hot out there, but the terrain was good fun to ride with some cool dunes. The times are really close, and I think I have a good starting position for tomorrow. In the end, it’s only the first stage, but I’m happy with my riding, happy with how the stage went, and the bike is working really nicely in the sand, so everything is looking good for stage two.”
Starting from rear positions, the Monster Energy Honda Team riders were able to pull back positions and, more importantly, make up time on the frontrunners. Pablo Quintanilla finished in an upbeat second place today, while Nacho Cornejo in sixth and Ricky Brabec in seventh, were among the top finishers. In the end, a penalty for Quintanilla saw him drop down the order to sixth place while fellow countryman Cornejo moves up one position.
José Ignacio Cornejo – P5
“Stage one was very physically demanding and very hot. There was a quite slow area of dunes that was pretty suffocating. After refueling it was more open and it wasn’t so hot. The pace was very high and the riders were really letting rip. The times are tight and it will be a tough battle all week. I enjoyed it. We are ready for the days ahead.”
Pablo Quintanilla – P6
“We had a good starting position and we tried to make the most of it with some good pace. It was a good, positive day. No mistakes and I’m happy to get into the rhythm of the race quickly. Let’s see how we are for tomorrow. Despite some discomfort in my ribs, I was able to ride and felt pretty good on the bike.”
Ricky Brabec – P7
“First official day of the rally was a good one. A little mistake early on had me stumbling in the soft sand dunes. The flow was really slow in the morning. I believe I’m a little bit too heavy for these sand dunes. It was a little bit tough for me. All was good. We’re healthy. We’re fresh. I think we are in an ok position for stage two. We’re looking forward to this. Tomorrow’s marathon will be tough for the motorcycles with the big, soft sand dunes and the heat. It will be tricky for everyone out there tomorrow. We will do our best and attack tomorrow.”
Arriving at the start of the day’s special, Toby Price was found to have an issue with the GPS equipment on his bike. The time taken to replace the unit dropped the Australian down the start order, forcing him to set off as the 32nd rider into the special.
Despite the disadvantage, Price remained focused and delivered an excellent performance to ultimately complete the stage eighth quickest. Similarly to his teammates, Toby will be looking to make up time on his rivals on Monday’s 453-kilometre stage two – the longest of this year’s event.
Toby Price – P8
“It’s been a frustrating start to the rally for me – not ideal at all. There was an issue with my GPS this morning and it wouldn’t validate any waypoints. The organizers had to change the whole system before the start of the special, which dropped me right down the start order and had me playing catch-up all day. It’s tough when you’re back there because you are riding on your own for a lot of the time and you’re unsure what’s going on around you. I was able to post a pretty good time, so I’ll keep pushing tomorrow and hopefully get back up where I need to be.”
Joaquim Rodrigues rode his Hero MotoSports bike steadily taking it easy on the first stage; however, a small mistake almost saw him crash, losing time. Franco too, found the day tough, riding the last 100 k ms of the stage battling severe fatigue.
Nevertheless, perservering, the duo finished in ninth and tenth places for the day.
Joaquim Rodrigues – P9
“Today being the first stage, I tried to keep it easy. It was a good day for me, even though the terrain was tough. I made a slight mistake and almost crashed, but I’m happy I could bring the bike home safe. The first stage is completed, and we have a long way to go.”
Franco Caimi – P10
“I’m happy to be back in the bivouac with the team having completed the first stage of the race. It was a tough one for me, having battled the last 100kms with a severe fatigue; but I’m glad we still made it to the end with a top-10 position. Tomorrow is a new day, it will be better, and we’ll keep fighting till the end.”
Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Luciano Benavides and Skyler Howes have safely completed stage one just outside the top-10 overall with Luciano placing 11th and Skyler close behind in 14th.
Luciano Benavides – P11
“It’s been a good first day here in Abu Dhabi. It was a nice stage, quite fast and flowing, and quite a physical test also. From starting seventh I moved forwards and after refuelling I opened the stage. I was able to navigate really well from there and it was good for my confidence, knowing that I can ride with a good pace while navigating accurately. A great opening stage for me and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Skyler Howes – P14
“I really enjoyed today. It’s my first time racing here so everything is new for me but so far it’s been a great experience. Luciano caught up with me at the refuelling and then I was able to latch onto him for a while which was cool, having two Husqvarnas up front and opening the stage. He did a great job of opening and that made things a little easier for me. It’s great to be back on the bike and racing, and I felt better as the stage went on so I’m looking forward to tomorrow and seeing what else this desert has to offer.”
Sam will lead out Monday’s 453 km stage two, which is not only the longest of the event, but it also makes up the first leg of this year’s marathon stage – no outside assistance will be allowed to the riders when they reach the bivouac in Hameem.
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