ABU DHABI // Portugal's Paulo Goncalves produced a brilliant surge on the final leg to snatch the bikes title from seven-time winner Marc Coma in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, while Russian Vladimir Vasilyev cruised to a commanding victory in the cars.
Goncalves, the reigning FIM world champion, wiped out a 1 minute, 31 second overnight lead for this year's Dakar Rally winner, Coma, to deny the Spaniard an eighth Desert Challenge crown and secure a first for himself.
At the end of five days of racing through some of the most demanding desert terrain on Earth, the Portuguese rider won the opening round of this year’s FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes by 20 seconds.
Goncalves, who edged out Coma to clinch last year’s FIM world title, said: “I feel really happy to have won and for the team who altogether made an extraordinary job in Abu Dhabi. We’ve had five days of racing and no problems, and it proves we are very strong and competitive. I’m very confident for the future.”
Coma, who will be back next year to pursue a record eighth bikes title, said: “It was a very nice race. I love the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. I tried to fight right until the end to catch Paulo, but well done to him.”
Spain’s Joan Barreda Bort, winner of the previous two stages, took third place, with the UAE’s Mohammed Al Balooshi in sixth position overall, despite a frustrating last day when his bike stalled.
“I’m quite upset with today,” Al Balooshi said. “We had a great four days, but everyone has bad days and today it was a bad day for me. Unfortunately, it had to be the last day. My bike stalled just before refuel and I couldn’t get it started again. I fiddled around and eventually got going again, but obviously I lost a lot of time.”
Partnered by Konstantin Zhilstov in a Mini, Vasilyev won by an impressive 47 minutes, 55 seconds from Poland’s Adam Malysz and Rafal Marton in a Toyota Hilux.
“For me, this is definitely the most difficult leg of the FIA Cross Country Rally series,” said Vasilyev, who became the second Russian driver to win the Desert Challenge after Leonid Novitskiy in 2010.
“On the last stage there weren’t as many dunes and we had to make our own tracks because we didn’t want to follow the bikes. It’s a very special feeling to win.”
In one of the most dramatic individual battles of the rally, Czech driver Miroslav Zapletal clung on to third place in his Hummer, edging out the UAE’s Yahya Al Helei by eight seconds after a valiant effort by the Emirati to snatch the last podium place in his Nissan Pick Up.
“It was a tight race between me and Zapletal for third,” Al Helei said. “After 50kms I caught up with him and took three minutes off him, and we were going head-to-head up to the second passage control when my engine started to overheat, so I had to pull back.
“After that it stopped four times and eventually I lost too much time, but well done to him. He is a great driver. ”
In the quads, Poland’s Rafal Sonik captured the title for the first time to add to his 2013 FIM world championship success. He clinched victory by 42 minutes, 52 seconds ahead of Russian rider Sergey Karyakin.
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