Dubai: Nani Roma clinched his first win in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge’s car category on Thursday, while Marc Coma edged his way to a record seventh win in the bike class to complete a unique double for Spain.
Roma and French co-driver Michel Perin won by 20 minutes and 58 seconds in their Mini over Jean Louis Schlesser, a six-times event winner, who had won three stages in successive days leading up the final 296km section.
Meanwhile, Coma’s bike triumph came after Sam Sunderland collected a ten-minute penalty overnight for a basic technical infringement, denying the British rider a brilliant start-to-finish victory as a reward for outshining the reigning world champion. Coma won by just 32 seconds from Portugal’s Paulo Goncalves.
Also celebrating victory at the finish was Qatar’s Mohammad Abu Eisa, who came through a series of scares to capture the quad title on his first attempt, winning by just over three minutes from the UAE’s defending champion Obaid Al Katbi.
A delighted Roma said: “It’s always nice to win, and the Desert Challenge is really difficult so it’s a good feeling, but I’m also happy for the whole team. In this sport you need a lot of people around you, so this victory was for everyone involved in the team.
“The first three days were really tough because I had to open the stage, so I had to go fast but not make mistakes. After that I could relax a little and sit on my lead. A lot of credit must go to Michel in the co-driver seat for getting us around.”
Coma, who has now won the Desert Challenge bikes title five years in a row, said: “I’m very happy to win but feel sorry for Sam because it was clear he was the fastest rider over the five days and deserved his victory. But those are the rules and we have to abide by them.
“For me I was just riding easy for the first three days and just trying to get used to the desert again. I rode harder today, but I knew I had to ride cleanly and not make any mistakes.”
Sunderland said: “It was a really good week for me but I made a big mistake. During liaison I went to talk to the mechanic about my broken exhaust late in the race and after talking to him I forgot to go through the final two gates and got a ten minute penalty. I’m really gutted, but those are the rules.”
New quad champion Abu Eisa, the third Qatari to claim a Desert Challenge title after cars victories by Saeed Al Hajri (1993) and Nasser Al Attiyah (2008), said: “My air filter was clogged 4km from the finish and my engine just stopped. I had to rip it out and crawl to the finish.
“It feels great to finish and to win the quads. It was close today because I was leading by 14 minutes coming into the last stage but I made three big mistakes that cost me 12 minutes. Luckily, I still won so it’s an amazing feeling, especially because this is my first Desert Challenge. It’s been an unbelievable five days.”
This event was the second round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars, and the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship.