ABU DHABI // Vladimir Vasilyev opened nearly a 10-minute lead in the cars competition after the third leg of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on Tuesday, while Sam Sunderland leads a tight bikes competition.
Sunderland, who is making his debut with the KTM team, lost the stage to Joan Barreda Bort – the Honda driver from Spain, who moved up to fourth in the overall standings – but still opened a 30-second lead over teammate and defending champion Marc Coma.
“I caught Marc after about 80 kilometres and then made the pace up until refuel,” said Sunderland, the Dubai-based rider. “Then the Honda guys caught us towards the end, so we just chilled a bit and let them make the pace.”
Coma, the reigning Dakar Rally champion, said: “I started first and I knew I would lose time. I went over a big jump at the start which left me a bit sore but I’m OK.”
Paulo Goncalves is third overall, 52 seconds behind Sunderland.
Goncalves said: “Me and Barreda finally caught the two KTM guys. Now we have two stages to go and we are really confident. We are very happy with the new bikes in the desert and are not too far behind the leaders, overall. But we will have to ride very fast to catch them at the end.”
The UAE’s Mohammed Al Balooshi held on to seventh position.
“This was the best day for me so far,” he said. “It was very fast and tricky, the way I like it, and I finally found my rhythm. Even though I had good times the last two days I really felt that I was riding my bike perfectly.
“It’s thanks to my whole team and sponsors that I’m here, and I’m really looking forward to finishing the challenge in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.
“It’s a shame that I’m the only Emirati riding in the rally this week, but I’m riding for my country today and I’m very happy overall.”
Among the cars, Vasilyev and his partner Konstantin Zhilstov, in a Mini, seemed to take control of the competition, stretching their advantage from 44 seconds to nine minutes, 48 seconds ahead of the Polish duo of Marek Dabrowski and Jacek Czachor in a Toyota Hilux.
The Emirati Yahya Al Helei is fifth, in a Nissan pickup.
It was a classic day of desert rallying at its spectacular best, as the 38 surviving cars and 48 bikes and quads followed a dramatic trail through mighty dunes in Abu Dhabi’s Western Region.
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