Sam Sunderland (KTM) secured victory at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, the first round of the 2019 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship.
The Briton won three stages to young Chilean rider Nacho Cornejo’s (Honda) two stage wins, but the latter finished third overall behind another Junior rider, Luciano Benavides.
It was a nice start to the season in the deserts of Abu Dhabi with a different course to previous years and navigation without open waypoints. But poor weather, strong winds and sand storms changed the nature of the sand dunes.
Sunderland rode a magnificent race without mistakes on his KTM and also gained the lead in the FIM Cross-Country Rally World Championship 2019. "I'm really happy with this last day and this rally. A big thank you to my team who really did exceptional work on the bike all week. It's great to start the World Championship with this race. Even if some of my teammates were not there, and I regret it, nothing is easy because there is always a rider who wants to take the first place. It was a strategic race during which we had to attack in certain places while, in others, we needed the knowledged to slow the pace. On paper, it may seem easy, but that is not always the case. This year, the race was also difficult because the wind blew very hard in the first stages and made it impossible to have good visibility in the dunes. The navigation had also changed and we no longer had the open waypoints like the other years. The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge earned its reputation again."
Experience paid off for Sam Sunderland, but the Junior riders also excelled in the difficult conditions. KTM’s Luciano Benavides and Honda’s Nacho Cornejo both finished on the podium.
At the stage finish of the final stage, Luciano said: "I pushed to have a good time today and take the second place. It was not easy because the special of the day was shorter than the others and I was not able to make any mistakes."
At Honda, Nacho Cornejo, third, also signed off with a very good race: "It's always hard to open and I knew yesterday, winning the SS4, that I lose time today. But I do a good job, I was not lost and Barreda only caught me towards the end of the selective section. I am disappointed to have lost second place but it was a fight. This is my first podium in the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship and for that I am very happy!"
Despite a very painful shoulder and broken ribs, Kevin Benavides (Honda) finished in fourth place ahead of Andrew Short (Husqvarna), while Joan Barreda (Honda) -unlucky in the first stage and also injured before the race - ended the rally far behind in 26th position.
In the quad category, Aleksandr Maksimov was leading the race but he incurred a penalty for leaving the refueling zone too early on the fourth day and Fahad Al Musallam (Yamaha) took the opportunity to take first place.
The Kuwaiti did not have an easy time on the final stage, however, with Rafal Sonik (Yamaha) challenging hard on the last stage to claim the stage win and finish second and a rear part of his quad that broke. Al-Musallam, nevertheless, claimed victory in the quad category, 1min 13sec ahead of Sonik and 5min 52sec in front of Maksimov.
FIM General Classification - Motorcycles