Sunderland wins Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
Heading into the final day of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, there were five riders within two-seconds, all poised in a position to win, so strategy was all-important in the final Special.
Winner of the fourth’s stage, Kevin Benavides (Honda), opened the trail with all the difficulties that entails. The last of the first group was the one most tipped to come out on top and that rider was… Sam Sunderland (KTM)!
Setting out as a man on a mission, the British rider showed his rivals no quarter, using them as pacemakers and reeling them in one after another to take the spoils of victory!
Sunderland, who in January became the first British rider to win the Dakar Rally, finished with an overall time of 18:14.32.5 hours on his KTM 450 RALLY bike for the five desert stages and the opening Super Special.
“I had been waiting for this win for a very long time and it’s an amazing feeling to win on home ground, as I live in Dubai. I had a good start to the race, winning the prologue, which was important, but this morning I knew I would have to attack hard in the first part of the course.”
In second place, reigning FIM Cross Country Rallies World Champion Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna), was all smiles.
“The guy who wins the prologue has an 80 per cent chance of winning the race, but it’s the first race of the season. I am runner up and I really had a blast!”
Walkner, who finished second to Sunderland in the 2017 Dakar Rally showed amazing consistency throughout the five-day competition. He was third in four stages and finished fourth in the other, but said after the race that he had been a little nervous about making a mistake in the final stage.
“It was a really nice stage today and very fast. I knew everyone had to push because we still had to fight for the podiums. At first, I felt my speed wasn’t that good, and I was a bit nervous about making mistakes, but I was able to ride a bit faster after the refueling. Overall I think this was a pretty good result especially because the dunes are not my favorite terrain. They are fun to ride but not for racing.”
Top of the leader board the previous day, Paulo Gonçalves (Honda) could do nothing to hold off the British rider.
“So here I am in fourth place at the end of the first round of the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship. We have finished the first race in the 2017 world championship. After what happened in the prologue I knew I had little chance of winning. Yesterday, I was ahead as the leader, but today the other riders passed me as had been expected and I finished fourth overall. We knew this could happen in a race made up entirely of dunes. I could have got a better result in a four-day rally like this… but that’s racing for you. The bike ran really well and the team has worked well together. In a few days we begin in Qatar, where we will have to set the pace right from the prologue. But the main thing is that I kept up a good pace all along and that my Honda ran beautifully. In less than two weeks, we shall be gathering in Qatar and I shall try to do better in the prologue.”
Pela Renet (Husqvarna) is in the same spot as last year, namely fifth.
“The main thing for me is that I’ve made progress with the navigation. This morning, I set out second. I caught up Benavides then I opened the trail for quite a while and out of the group only Matthias (Walkner) caught me up, so I’m happy!”
2017 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge 5th Special results
- SUNDERLAND S. 2:40:20.0
- QUINTANILLA P. +5:59.0
- WALKNER M. +8:58.0
- GONCALVES P. +12:26.0
- RENET P. +14:56.0
- MEO A. +15:32.0
- BENAVIDES K. +17:56.0
- STEPHENS L. +22:44.0
- AL BALOOSHI M. +24:20.0
- MCBRIDE D. +27:01.0
2017 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Overall Standings
- SUNDERLAND S. 18:14:32.5
- QUINTANILLA P. +6:13.7
- WALKNER M. 1+8:16.1
- GONCALVES P. +11:10.3
- RENET P. +14:50.8
- MEO A. +1:09:00.6
- AL BALOOSHI M. +1:30:34.2
- JAFFAR M. +2:56:48.0
- TOMICZEK A. +2:59:10.3
- MCBRIDE D. +3:06:06.1