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Qassimi, Sunderland and Musallam champs
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 07 - 04 - 2017

ABU DHABI — Abu Dhabi Racing's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi, Dubai-based Briton Sam Sunderland and Kuwait's Fahad Al-Musallam secured overall victories after the final dramatic Abu Dhabi Aviation-sponsored stage of 219.76km at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge powered by Nissan Thursday.

Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah appeared to be cruising to victory in the cars until he rolled his Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux heavily before the opening passage control. Despite continuing for a short while after a long delay, he retired the damaged car at PC1.

Al-Qassimi and navigator Khalid Al-Kendi had put their previous day's troubles behind them and were pushing hard to the finish and keeping the pressure on their rivals. Their determination was duly rewarded with a superb victory that gives the Abu Dhabi driver a 33-point lead in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies after three rounds.

A fascinating tussle ensued for supremacy in the motorcycle and quad categories. Honda's Paulo Gonçalves began the last stage with a lead of 33.8 seconds, but starting order is crucial in this form of cross-country rallying and Dakar champion Sam Sunderland delivered a stunning ride on his Red Bull KTM 450 Rally to seal the stage win and earn his first Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge victory.

Starting eighth on the road was an obvious advantage and the Dubai-based rider's strategy paid off handsomely. Chile's Pablo Quintanilla bounced back from recent career setbacks to claim second place on his Rockstar Energy Husqvarna — 6min 13.7sec behind the winner — and Austrian Matthias Walkner won the battle with Paulo Gonçalves for third place.

Ride to Abu Dhabi's Mohammed Al-Balooshi was the leading Arab finisher in seventh position.

A delighted Al-Qassimi will take many positives from his debut in the Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR. Delays on day four aside, Al-Qassimi has adapted well to cross-country rallying in a short space of time and his victory throws the FIA World Cup wide open. His winning margin was 41min 26sec and he became the first Emirati to win the event since Mohammed Mattar won the two non-championship races way back in 1991 and 1992.

Czech driver Martin Prokop delivered a career-best performance in this discipline of rallying to snatch second place in his Ford F-150. Mohammed Abu Issa has enjoyed a successful transition from racing on a quad to being competitive in a car and the Qatari finished third overall in his Mini All4 Racing.

Khalid Al-Feraihi, Yayha Al-Helai and Mark Powell delivered excellent performances to finish fourth, fifth and sixth overall.
T2 became a battle ground between Ahmed Al-Shegawi and Yasir Saiedan after earlier delays for Abu Dhabi's Emil Khneisser and Qatar's Adel Abdulla. Al-Shegawi was delayed on the last stage and Saiedan claimed the win from Al-Shegawi and Mansoor Al-Helai.

Adel Hussein battled on bravely after minor delays and a time loss when he stopped to help a rival competitor. The Qatari, who runs his Nissan Patrol with support from Saleh Al-Hamal Al-Mana Co. Ooredoo, QMMF and Nissan Middle East, finished fourth and maintains the defense of his world title in style before his home event in two weeks.

Dutchman Kees Koolen won the day's stage in the quads but, when Guatamala's Rodolfo Schippers — who began the day with a lead of 1min 43.3sec — stopped with mechanical issues it opened the door for Kuwait's Fahad Al-Musallam to claim a memorable win on his Yamaha Raptor 700 R. Former leader Kamil Wisniewski of Poland finished third.

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge took place under the patronage of Hamdan Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Ruler's representative in Al-Dafra region, and has invaluable support from Al-Dafrah Region Municipality, Abu Dhabi Municipality, the UAE Army, Abu Dhabi Police, National Ambulance Service, Yas Marina Circuit, ADNOC, Abu Dhabi Aviation, Al-Ain Water, Abu Dhabi Waste Management, Rotana and Centro Hotel — Yas Island, the Qasr Al-Sarab Resort and Al-Forsan Circuit.


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