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Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge - Peterhansel leads for Audi after two legs, Al Rajhi tops provisional standings for W2RC-entered competitors

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After claiming the win of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge’s opening stage and finishing fourth in today’s leg, Team Audi Sport’s Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger remain in the lead ahead of Yazeed Al Rajhi/Dirk von Zitzewitz (Overdrive Racing).

W2RC - Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge - N Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (DPPI)

The Saudi-German crew, second fastest in the event’s opener and third today in their Toyota Hilux Overdrive, managed to reduce the gap to the overall leaders by almost two minutes and is now 7min49sec behind their Audi rivals. They also top the provisional standings for competitors entered in the FIA World Rally-Raid Championship.

French legend Stéphane Peterhansel had built up a lead of 7min 49sec after two punishing days of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, round two of the new FIA World Rally-Raid Championship.

Partnered by Edouard Boulanger, the 14-time Dakar winner comfortably won the opening 262km selective section between the UAE’s capital and the remote bivouac of Qasr Al-Sarab and the fourth quickest time through the longer 316km second section was enough to maintain his lead. The Audi Sport team is not registered for the championship this season but continuing to build momentum with the revolutionary Audi RS Q e-tron.

FIA World Rally-Raid Championship rivals, Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Sébastien Loeb, both hit trouble on the first stage. A heavy landing over a jump broke a suspension arm on Al-Attiyah’s Toyota Hilux and the Qatari and French co-driver Mathieu Baumel returned to the stage start to try and make emergency repairs to the damaged suspension and front-right wheel. Their efforts were in vain, however, and Al-Attiyah incurred 24 hours of time penalties before going on set the fastest time in stage two from a starting position of fifth on the road.

 Al-Attiyah said: “Now we will try and win every day to take maximum points like we did today. We did quite a good job, I am quite happy. We have to now work for the points. Today we won five and I hope to win five points tomorrow as well.

“It's a disappointment not to win the rally because it is my favourite rally. We need to accept what happened yesterday. This is a motor sport. Now we must try to push the limit of the car, like we did it today.”

Loeb and co-driver Fabian Lurquin suffered transmission issues with their Prodrive Hunter BRX early in the special and stopped to try and make repairs for over 40 minutes. The Frenchman did manage to continue through the sandy special, but the Bahrain Raid Xtreme-entered Hunter got stuck in soft sand for a long time and the nine-time WRC champion spent over an hour digging his way out of the sand. He eventually dropped 2hr 23min to Peterhansel. The second quickest time in SS2 enabled Loeb to reduce Peterhansel’s advantage to 2hr 14min 19sec but he faced a fightback through the field over the closing three days.

The main beneficiary from Al-Attiyah’s and Loeb’s problems was Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi in his Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux. A positive Covid-19 test for regular co-driver Michael Orr meant that he was replaced by Dirk von Zitzewitz at the 11th hour and the duo bonded well to set the second quickest time in stage one.

W2RC - Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge - Y. Al Rajhi/D. Von Zitzewitz (DPPI)

Another useful run through the second loop stage through the dunes consolidated the Saudi’s hold on second overall. But, with Peterhansel and Team Audi Sport not registered for championship points, Al-Rajhi was in pole position heading into the remaining three days of the rally, despite intense heat in the remote deserts of the Al-Dhafra region of the UAE.

The Czech duo of Martin Prokop and Viktor Chytka held third overall in their Ford Raptor RS Cross-Country, but were not registered for championship points. The X-raid Mini JCW Team of Jakub Przygonski and Timo Gottschalk were sixth behind the T3 leading Can-Am Maverick X3 of Chile’s Francisco Lopez and Italian co-driver Paulo Ceci and the T4 category-topping Can-Am, crewed by Poland’s Marek Goczal and Lukasz Laskawiec.

Przygonski was classified second of the registered T1 drivers, with Mathieu Serradori in third and Loeb heading Argentina’s Sebastien Halpern in fourth.

The Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team entered four Overdrive OT3s in Abu Dhabi. Guillaume de Mevius and Tom Colsoul were fastest in T3 through the first stage before suffering delays in SS2. Cristina Gutierrez and Seth Quintero held second and third overall behind Lopez after two days, but Mitch Guthrie Junior had lost his chance of taking top honours with technical problems on day one. Annett Fischer, PH Sport’s Jean-Luc Pisson and South Racing Middle East’s Thomas Bell were classified in fourth, fifth and sixth of the registered drivers,

Behind T4 front-runner, Goczal, electrical issues had plagued the championship-leading Austin Jones on day one and that paved the way for Lithuania’s Rokas Baciuska and his Spanish co-driver Oriol Mena to hold second in the category, albeit 9min 40sec behind the Pole. Goczal’s brother Michal and his co-driver Szymon Gospodarczyk were third overall in the second of the Cobant Energylandia Rally Team Can-Ams being run by South Racing. Jones held fourth overall amongst the drivers registered for the championship.

The Dutch trio of Kees Koolen, Wouter de Graaf and Gisjbert Van Uden led the T5 truck category in their Iveco Powerstar. Their Czech rivals, Martin Macik, Frantisek Tomasek and David Svanda, had been quickest on day one in a similar Iveco before losing time.

A number of Russian drivers/co-drivers withdrew from the provisional entry list of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge prior to the event. Those drivers/co-drivers declined to sign a declaration committing and adhering to the FIA’s principles of peace and political neutrality pertaining to Russian/Belarusian drivers and were ineligible to compete as a result. The obligation to sign such commitment was imposed in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine following the extraordinary meeting of the World Motor Sport Council on March 1 (see publication here).