|Abu Dhabi DC: Mini´s Al Mutaiwei loses time in the sand but finished second.|
Dubai’s Khalifa Al-Mutaiwei and German co-driver Andreas Schulz suffered a setback to their challenge for honours in the 2012 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, when they got stuck in soft sand dunes on the first of the stages through the Western region of the Abu Dhabi desert on Monday.
The pair eventually reached the stage finish in second position with a time of 4h 27m 45s, after falling as far down the field as ninth at one point. Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser - a two-time Dakar winner - won the stage to take a useful early lead in the second round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.
"I got stuck at the same place three times," said Al-Mutaiwei. "It was very sandy and I wanted to take a path to the left, but there was a motorcycle stuck there, so I got stuck myself and we had to dig ourselves out."
"This is where I lost the time, but I am not too unhappy. I still have the speed I had seven years ago and today’s stage was better suited to the Buggy. The next stage offers more sand dunes and this should be better for my car. There is still a long way to go."
Fazza Rally Team driver, Al-Mutaiwei - who runs an X-raid Mini All4 Racing under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, crown prince of Dubai - began the first 285.05km desert stage from second position on the road, courtesy of his second place on the super special at Marina Mall on Sunday.
But the Emirati soon found himself running as the first car in the special when Boris Gadasin was delayed. The Mini All4 Racing was the first car to reach the opening passage control and Al-Mutaiwei was also the virtual stage leader, having reached the checkpoint 2m 17s in front of Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser.
But Al-Mutaiwei was delayed before the second passage control for over half an hour in soft sand dunes and Schlesser gained the virtual stage lead from Russian BMW driver Ilya Kusnetsov by 2m 29s. Al-Mutaiwei eventually reached the control point down in ninth position in the unofficial rankings.
The UAE’s Mark Powell, Mike Ziegler and Mansoor Al-Helai were also in trouble early in the stage and Ilya Kusnetsov was reported to have rolled his BMW and continued.
But Al-Mutaiwei speeded up from the on and was the third driver to pass the third PC, having reduced Schlesser’s advantage to 29m 57s. The Dubai driver shaved another 30 seconds off the Frenchman’s lead through PC4 and reached the finish as the second car to record the second overall time, 32m 33s behind Schlesser.
Frenchman Patrick Sireyjol lost time and a possible second overall through the closing kilometres and Germany’s Stephan Schott also hit late trouble. Dubai’s Yayha Al-Helai - a veteran of all 22 UAE and Abu Dhabi Desert Challenges - finished the stage in third position in a Nissan Patrol and moved up to a similar position in the overall rankings.
The next three days involve loops around the Qasr Al Sarab bivouac through the Rub Al-Khali (Empty Quarter), with the fifth and final day guiding teams back to the finish in Abu Dhabi at 16.30hrs on Friday, April 6th.
2012/04/03 | 18:35 CET | ARTICLE: MR/SY/PERKINS