Peterhansel and Docherty take an early lead as drama kicks off the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge opener

Stephane Peterhansel takes part in the first stage of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on Sunday.

golf today, staff reporter

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge lived up to its reputation as one of the most fascinating rallies in the world in a dramatic opening day that brought very different fortunes to some of the sport’s biggest names, while two local heroes took the spotlight.

Defending champion Nasser Al Attiyah, who was looking for his third car win at the event, soon returned to the grid after damaging the front right wheel of his Toyota Hilux and his hopes of victory were dashed.

While Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel struggled with repairs, seven-time winner Stephane Peterhansel and nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb battled for the lead, and a classic battle ensued between the two rallying legends.

Abdulaziz Ahli UAE rider Abdulaziz Ahli in action during the Quads category.

That ended when Loeb’s Prodrive Hunter was held up by a broken driveshaft for nearly 90 minutes before continuing, giving Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger some respite in their Audi RS Q e-tron.

They finished 9 minutes and 30 seconds ahead of Yazeed Al Rajhi of Saudi Arabia in a Toyota Hilux, while Czech driver Martin Prokop, the 2018 champion, finished third in a Ford, 14 minutes and 59 seconds back from the lead became a raptor.

Pole Jakub Przygonski had easily held a place in the top three before his Mini John Cooper Works Buggy lost time when it got stuck in the dunes, dropping him to fourth place. Mathieu Serradori in a Century CR6 and Stephane Schott in another mini buggy completed the top 6.

the 31stSt The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is also packed with the world’s best factory team riders, but they failed to beat Dubai-based privateer Michael Docherty, who delivered a brilliant performance taking the lead on his Rally 2 Husqvarna.

After winning the previous day’s qualifying, Docherty was again fastest for a good part of today’s stage as he battled two wheeler champion Sam Sunderland, World Rally Raid Series leader and eventual stage winner, in Abu Dhabi.

The South African-born rider eventually set the fourth fastest time after “a few falls” but finished the day with an overall advantage of 23 seconds over defending champion Matthias Walkner, followed by Argentinian star Kevin Benavides (+37) and Sunderland (+58). ).

Emirati rider Abdulaziz Ahli covered himself in glory by taking the quad crown at last year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. On Sunday he was on his own again as he began defending his title by dominating the category and winning the stage by more than 53 minutes over Slovakia’s Juraj Varga on another Yamaha Raptor.

In 1996 Peterhansel celebrated his first rally victory on a motorcycle, he celebrated his last triumph with his wife Andrea as a co-driver in 2019.

Reaching the finish line today, he said, “It’s great to be back in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge after so many times. I can’t remember the exact number. The rally is always challenging with the dunes, soft sand and required navigation. This car is running well and no modifications were required after the Dakar Rally.”

Docherty commented: “It was a good start although we had a couple of crashes. This is my 2nd ADDC and my experience keeps increasing. I train a lot around Fossil Rock here in the United Arab Emirates. I need to improve my navigation skills so tomorrow and the rest of the rally will be interesting.”

Quads leader Ahli said: “In the beginning I was going fast because I started first. My strategy was to gain as much distance from my competitors as possible. Tomorrow will be the hardest stage because it’s the longest.”

The Ruler’s Court of Representatives in the Al Dhafra Region phase marked the beginning of a new chapter for the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge as the second round of the inaugural World Rally-Raid Championship.

The new series has brought together FIA and FIM cross country rallies and there was some added anticipation as the cars, trucks, motorbikes and quads left the Yas Marina Circuit for the first of five stages of competition in the Al Dhafra region.

Each of the competition legs focuses on the bivouac near Qasr Al Sarab, where technicians were soon at work repairing and preparing the rally machines for the next day’s action in the Empty Quarter.

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