Abu Dhabi: There are few things that Stephane Peterhansel has not achieved in cross country rallying, although winning an event with his wife for company, now a real possibility in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, would be another first.
It is eight years since the Frenchman won the last of his five Desert Challenge cars titles, but he has another in his sights, despite recording only the fourth fastest time on Monday’s 222.80km Al Ain Water stage in a Mini John Cooper Works Rally as another sandstorm pounded the Rub Al Khali.
While Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi left behind the previous day’s disastrous transmission problems to win the stage in a Toyota Hilux Overdrive, Peterhansel ended it with a lead of two minutes and 26 seconds over Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke.
Right up until the eve of rally there were doubts as to whether Peterhansel’s wife Andrea would join him in the car because of travel sickness issues, something which never troubled her as a top-class rider and driver.
They faced a fresh challenge on Tuesday, after Ten Brinke’s Toyota and the Mini JCW Buggy of overnight leader Cyril Despres joined a trail of casualties to get stuck in soft sand, leaving them out in front with only the dunes ahead.
“It was a complicated stage and we saw a few cars ahead struggling and getting stuck, so we played it safe and went not too fast,” said the 13-times Dakar Rally winner at the end.
“There was still a lot of wind which makes the dunes difficult and leading the cars for the stage was a new experience for my wife as there was no tracks to follow.”
With a fragile lead, Peterhansel has a pack of proven winners at the top level hounding him.
Just 32 seconds behind Ten Brenke comes the UAE’s 2017 winner Khalid Al Qasimi in the Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR.
Completing a top six separated by only 16 mins 20 secs are Poland’s Dubai Baja champion Jakub Przygonski of in a Mini JCW Buggy, last year’s Czech winner Martin Prokop in a Ford Raptor RS Cross Country and Russia’s two-times Desert Challenge victor Vladimir Vasilyev in a BMW X3.
It was another particularly testing day for the bike and quad riders as 30km winds churned up the sand, making visibility difficult, and Spain’s Jose Cornejo on a Honda adapted best.
Not only winning the stage by 1:43 from Spanish Honda teammate Joan Barreda Bort, he covered it 5:55 faster than Sam Sunderland to slash the 2017 Desert Challenge champion’s overall lead on a KTM to 51s. The Argentinian Benavides brothers Luciano and Kevin, along with UAE-based South African Mark Ackerman complete the top six.
“We’ve had another day of classic desert rallying and with so many top riders and drivers close together the race for the cars and bikes titles is really wide open.” said Mohammed Bin Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE and FIA Vice President for Sport.
Standings after Stage 2
1. Stephane Peterhansel / Andrea Peterhansel, MINI JC Works Rally 7:16:46.0
2. Bernhard Ten Brinke / Tom Colsoul, Toyota Hilux Overdrive 7:19.12.0
3. Khalid Al Qassimi / Xavier Panseri, Peugeot 3008 DKR 7:19:44.0
4. Jakub Przygonski / Timo Gottschalk, MINI JC Works Buggy 7:25:33.0
5. Martin Prokop / Viktor Chytka, Ford Raptor RS Cross Country 7:27:05.0
6. Vladimir Vasilyev / Konstantin Zhiltsov, BMW X3 7:32:58.0
7. Aron Domzala / Maciej Marton, Toyota Hilux Overdrive 7:37:53.0
8. Casey Currie / Laurent Lichtleuchter, CAN AM Maverick X3 7:57:30.0
9. Reinaldo Varela / Gustavo Gugelmin, CAN AM Maverick X3 7:57:39.0
10. Khalid Al Jafla / Andrei Rudnitski, Chevrolet Silverado 13:16:05.0
1. Sam Sunderland, KTM 450 Rally Factory 6:59:57.0
2. Jose Cornejo, Honda CRF 450 Rally 7:00:48.0
3. Andrew Short, HUSQVARNA FR 450 7:04:09.0
4. Luciano Benavides, KTM 450 Rally Factory 7:06:39.0
5. Kevin Benavides, Honda CRF 450 Rally 7:20:17.0
6. Mark Ackerman, HUSQVARNA F 450 RR 7:48:49.0
7. Ryan Blair, HUSQVARNA F 450 RR 7:49:00.0
8. Mohammed Al Baloushi, KTM 450 Rally Replica 7:59:02.0
9. Mohammed Meshari Jaffar, KTM 450 Rally Replica 8:08:34.0
10. David McBride, KTM 450 Rally 8:39:16.0