The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge kick-started the 2018 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship and reigning World Champion Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) took the laurels, despite a technical problem, after winning the rally by a margin of 5min 11sec from Sam Sunderland (KTM). He also finished 8min 34.5sec in front of third-placed Kevin Benavides (Honda).
The three motorcycle brands (Husqvarna, KTM and Honda) entered in the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship each claimed a podium finish on the first round of the year, which bodes well for an open and exciting season of racing.
Price (KTM), Sunderland (KTM) and Quintanilla (Husqvarna) followed one another as leaders of the race, but the Chilean managed his race well and duly started the season with flying colours. It was all the more special for the Chilean, who rode for three days without using his third gear.
"It was a hard week because the race was fast and the level of my opponents was very high," said ‘Quinta a fondo’, as the Chileans refer to Quintanilla. "Every day, there was a fight in the dunes. We had to stay very focused. The day before yesterday, I experienced a ‘box problem but we decided not to change the engine to not be penalised by 15 minutes. Today, I rode quietly, there was nothing to win, but winning this Abu Dhabi Desert Chalenge is a great way to start the season!"
Second overall and over five minutes behind was Sam Sunderland (KTM). Despite a heavy fall in the fourth special stage, the Dubai-based Briton managed to keep his second place on the podium: "Yesterday, I failed to avoid a broken dune and I fell. Today, the race was over with the riders leaving together at the start line. There was nothing to gain or lose..."
Argentina's Kevin Benavides (Honda) finished on the third step of the podium. "It was a great race and I'm happy to finish third. It's a good start to the season. I feel physically fit and the bike works well but on this race we ran out of race strategy."
Matthias Walkner (KTM) was the winner of the last special and finished fourth overall. He was slightly off his usual pace because his victory at the 2018 Dakar has kept him very busy and meant a little time away from the tracks.
Toby Price (KTM) finished seventh after his victory on the first day’s stage and the dropped time in the second special. "I'm finishing the rally but it was not my best finish," said the Australian. “I jumped a broken dune and I landed heavily. The suspension was compressed and, today, my back hurts and I feel as though I am 70-years-old."
It was a good race for Paulo Gonçalves (Honda), who rode for the first time since his fall five months ago. "A fifth place in these conditions is satisfactory,” explained the Portuguese. “We had tests in Morocco and here I finish this race. I am happy. The next rally in which we will participate is in four months’ time. I will have recovered 100% physically. That's my goal."
Ricky Brabec (Honda) was happy to have made no mistakes and finished sixth. "Now there is still work on the bike,” commented the Californian.
The Honda team could also be pleased with the performance of the new team member Jose "Nacho" Cornejo, who was classified in eighth place: "This was my first race as an official Honda rider," explained the young Chilean. “I tried to pick up speed and I'm happy because, every day, my rhythm was improved. It's motivating!"
There was a solid performance also from Michael Metge (Honda) – ninth, despite having a little trouble finding the right pace: "The first stage, I was surprised because I found the broken dunes very dangerous. Then, I changed my rhythm and I had a better feeling from day-to-day. I ended up having fun with the technical sections, but less in the fast cut dunes!"
In the quad category, Kees Koolen (Barren) was delighted to tahe the victory. "I love this rally,” said the Dutchman. “I come back every year and I also come to train here in winter. I thought this race would be easier to win, but Aleksander Maksimov (Yamaha) attacked me every day and forced me to ride faster."
The next round of the FIM Cross-Country Rally Championship is the Qatar Cross-Country Rally, which will take place on April 17-22.
Stage 5 Classification
Pos No. Name Avg. Time Diff. prev Diff. 1st
1 3 WALKNER M. 78.7 2:46:40.0
2 2 BENAVIDES K. 78.7 2:46:40.5 +0.5 +0.5
3 5 SUNDERLAND S. 78.5 2:46:59.0 +18.5 +19.0
4 6 PRICE T. 78.3 2:47:26.0 +27.0 +46.0
5 1 QUINTANILLA P. 78.0 2:48:05.0 +39.0 +1:25.0
6 4 GONCALVES P. 77.7 2:48:41.0 +36.0 +2:01.0
7 11 BRABEC R. 77.7 2:48:45.0 +4.0 +2:05.0
8 12 METGE M. 77.7 2:48:53.0 +8.0 +2:13.0
9 14 CORNEJO FLORIMO J. 77.5 2:49:09.0 +16.0 +2:29.0
10 18 WEST J. 75.1 2:54:40.0 +5:31.0 +8:00.0
Pos No. Name Pen. Time Diff. prev Diff. 1st
1 1 QUINTANILLA P. 16:51:11.0
2 5 SUNDERLAND S. 16:56:22.0 +5:11.0 +5:11.0
3 2 BENAVIDES K.16:59:45.5 +3:23.5 +8:34.5
4 3 WALKNER M. 17:00:47.0 +1:01.5 +9:36.0
5 4 GONCALVES P. 1:00.0 17:09:46.0 +8:59.0 +18:35.0
6 11 BRABEC R. 17:11:57.0 +2:11.0 +20:46.0
7 6 PRICE T. -22:42.0 17:20:56.0 +8:59.0 +29:45.0
8 14 CORNEJO FLORIMO J. 17:21:16.0 +20.0 +30:05.0
9 12 METGE M. 2:00.0 17:29:30.0 +8:14.0 +38:19.0
10 27 MELOT B. 19:06:48.0 +1:37:18.0 +2:15:37.0