ABU DHABI: Only a final leg disaster can prevent Spain’s Nani Roma from claiming a first victory in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge after another day of spectacular action which saw Dubai-based British rider Sam Sunderland extend his lead in the bikes class with a masterful display in the Rub Al Khali.
While defending champion Jean-Louis Schlesser scored his second successive stage victory on the 266km Nissan Stage 4, taking it with a margin of just over nine minutes to go second overall, the next fastest time on the day was enough to give Roma and French co-driver Michel Perin a lead of 37mins 9secs in the cars category to carry into the final leg in their Mini.
After getting stuck in soft sand and also losing time when they stopped to repair the engine fan, Brazillian Guilherme Spinelli partnered by Youssef Haddad in a Mitsubishi ASX could manage only the sixth fastest time on the day, slipping one place to third, another 20 minutes adrift of Schlesser.
Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke and fellow-countryman Erik Van Loon, both driving an HRX Ford X, and Roma’s team-mate, Poland’s Krystof Holowczyc in another Mini, completed the top six.
Roma finished the Nissan stage to say: “I just stayed behind Krystof and used his tracks today. It was still a very difficult stage with some very tough patches where, if you got stuck, you would be there for ages. It’s nice to have a strong lead going into the final stage, but at the same time I have to remain focused as a lot can happen on one stage.”
Leading the bikes class by a slender 58 seconds overnight, Sunderland underlined his emergence as a force in international cross country rallying by outpacing some of the world’s best riders as he increased his lead to 2mins 53secs from Spain’s reigning world champion and six-times Desert Challenge winner, Marc Coma.
Tired, but clearly focused on his objective at the end of the Nissan Stage, he said: “The last part was all piste and I lost my exhaust, and when that happens you lose a lot of power which is what happened now. I just want to take it day by day.”