ABU DHABI: Spanish driver Nani Roma swept to the front of the pack in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge today while Dubai-based British rider Sam Sunderland overshadowed the world’s best on two wheels to take the lead in the bikes class.
Partnered by French co-driver Michel Perin in his Mini, Roma was fastest over the gruelling 250km ADNOC Special Stage 2 which sent the rally on a difficult passage through the giant dunes of the Rub Al Khali, and he finished it leading the cars class by 17 mins 10 secs from Brazillian Guilherme Spinelli. Accompanied by Youssef Haddad in a Mitsubishi ASX, Spinelli was 19 mins 31 secs clear of Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel in third place in their HRX Ford X.
With another Dutchman, Erik Van Loon, slipping one place overnight to fourth, defending champion and six-times Desert Challenge winner Jean Louis Schlesser had a much better day after his problems on the first leg, climbing to fifth, although he was more than 50 minutes off the lead.
While a procession of cars and bikes became stuck in soft sand as the route wound its way through the spectacular but unforgiving dunes, Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Saeidan took his Polaris into seventh position, while the UAE’s Yahya Al Helei shrugged off his first leg setback to move into the top ten, and lead the T2 production class.
Roma completed the second leg to say: “It was definitely not easy and much harder than yesterday. I got stuck once and lost maybe seven minutes. But it’s ok – I’m feeling good at the moment”
Spinelli said: “This stage was more difficult than yesterday. I was climbing one of the biggest dunes in second gear and at the top I tapped my brakes slightly and got stuck. It cost us maybe ten minutes. But this is a very good experience for me as I’ve never driven in the desert before.”
The cars category was guaranteed a new leader today when Argentina’s Lucio Alvarez, who had won the Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management Special Stage 1, withdrew overnight after his Toyota Hilux Overdrive X T1 was deemed unfit to continue. It had been damaged when it rolled 2km from finish of the first stage.