|Abu Dhabi DC: Khalifa Al Mutaiwei - "I am quite happy to finish second here".|
Dubai’s Khalifa Al-Mutaiwei and German co-driver Andreas Schulz were unable to catch leader Jean-Louis Schlesser on the fifth and final 287.32km leg of the 2012 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on Friday.
The X-raid Mini crew were delayed replacing a viscous fan on the Mini’s engine this morning. They had to stop several times from then on and this spoiled the Emirati’s chance of taking a potential stage win.
Schlesser and Russian co-driver Konstantin Zhilstov had a comfortable overnight lead to fall back on in any case and the two-time Dakar champion managed to reach the finish line to confirm a record-breaking sixth Desert Challenge victory since 1994 and an early lead over Al-Mutaiwei in the 2012 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallys.
Frenchman Patrick Sireyjol finished the final stage in fourth with his SMG Buggy and that was sufficient to seal the final podium position behind Schlesser and Al-Mutaiwei.
The UAE’s Yayha Al-Helai completed the gruelling rally, held across treacherous soft sand and in punishing temperatures, in fourth overall with his Nissan Patrol. Russian Ilya Kusnetsov rounded off the top five in his BMW X3CC after setting the third fastest time on the final stage.
Trailing leader Jean-Louis Schlesser by 38:03 minutes at the overnight halt, there was little chance that Al-Mutaiwei could overtake his rival unless the Frenchman hit serious trouble on the way back to the official podium at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Yacht Club.
Al-Mutaiwei began the stage behind the Frenchman and the nature of the terrain meant that it was straightforward to catch his rival, but less easy to overtake and try and gain some ground. By the first passage control, the Fazza Rally Team driver had shaved 23 seconds off the two-time Dakar winner’s advantage and he managed to extend that to 1:33 mins at PC2.
But Al-Mutaiwei stopped shortly after the control point to replace a broken viscous fan on the Mini’s engine and he was passed on the stage by the Russian duo of Vladimir Vasilyev and Kusnetsov and Sireyjol, as Schlesser headed off into the distance to confirm a comfortable victory.
Italian Baja winner Vasilyev was the next driver to reach PC3 in his G-Force Proto, but Al-Mutaiwei started moving again, then had to stop for a second time to make further emergency repairs to prevent the car overheating and was passed by Al-Helai’s Nissan.
The Dubai driver stopped again soon afterwards and reached the control in sixth position on the road, 59m 03s down on Schlesser, who had completed the stage in 03:08:57 hours to confirm his victory and the lead in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies after two rounds. Fortunately, Al-Mutaiwei had enough time in hand to ensure that the morning’s delays did not cost him second overall when he crossed the day’s finish line in 04:08:13.
"This is probably the most demanding rally with sand dunes in the world," said Al-Mutaiwei, who finished the stage in sixth position to confirm second overall. "I am quite happy to finish second and to see that I still have the speed to match the rest after the seven-year absence. I must not forget that this is still a learning year for me and to finish second is still a pleasing achievement."
"Now I can look ahead to the new event in Qatar later this month and continue the progress I have shown on the Desert Challenge and since the Baja in Italy last month."
2012/04/07 | 17:49 CET | ARTICLE: MR/SY/PERKINS