|Abu Dhabi DC: Jean-Louis Schlesser extended his overall lead after SS04.|
Frenchmen Jean-Louis Schlesser extended his overall advantage with the fastest time on the penultimate desert stage SS04 on Thursday in front of Dubai’s Khalifa Al-Mutaiwei and German co-driver Andreas Schulz, who will start the final stage on Friday 38:03 minutes behind Schlesser.
Patrick Sireyjol from France (SMG Gache Buggy) completed the stage in 3rd to maintain the final podium slot and the UAE’s Yayha Al-Helai - a former UAE Desert Challenge runner-up - was on course for 4th place to remain in a similar position in the overall rankings.
Russian Ilya Kusnetsov looked set to climb from 6th to 5th overall in his X-raid BMW X3CC at the penultimate passage control.
"Everything was going extremely well until we got stuck in the sand dunes towards the end of the stage and that cost us about 20 minutes," said Al-Mutaiwei, who finished the day in second position after the late delay.
Wednesday’s hard-earned stage win was taken off Al-Mutaiwei for a few hours last night after a timing dispute. Schlesser was handed the win for a short period before Al-Mutaiwei was reinstated at the head of the stage three leader board and duly began the fourth stage as the first car on the road, trailing the Frenchman by 16m 40s into the penultimate 317km stage through the Rub Al-Khali.
Al-Mutaiwei was the first driver to pass the opening passage control point, but he had ceded the virtual fastest stage time to fellow countryman Nabil Al-Shamsi. The Fazza Rally Team driver had also dropped 62 seconds to Schlesser. Russians, Ilya Kusnetsov and Vladimir Vasilyev, and Germany’s Stephan Schott were delayed before the PC, but Kusnetsov managed to get going again soon afterwards.
By PC2, Al-Shamsi was still running as the fastest driver on the stage and both Schlesser and Al-Mutaiwei were driving together through the dunes, with the Frenchman shadowing eight seconds behind but leading by 1m 52s in the timings.
Al-Mutaiwei and Schlesser reached the third checkpoint together, although the Emirati was now trailing on the stage by 1m 40s. He would need to shed his pursuer to stand any chance of taking a stage lead.
Al-Shamsi relinquished his virtual stage lead before PC3, as the leading duo continued to cross the Western desert and Frenchman Patrick Sireyjol moved up to a distant third on the stage.
The leading duo held station through PC4, near Arada, with Schlesser leading in the virtual rankings by 1m 50s, although Al-Shamsi and Saudi driver Ibrahim Al-Muhanna reached the control point early after missing the third checkpoint.
Schlesser reached the stage finish with the fastest time to extend his lead in the overall rankings, as he closes in on a sixth Desert Challenge success since 1994. Al-Mutaiwei was badly delayed on the final section of the special in the dunes.
2012/04/06 | 18:35 CET | ARTICLE: MR/SY/PERKINS