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Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge: Chicherit wins the prologue.

X-raid driver Guerlain Chicherit, Poland’s Jakub Przygonski and the UAE’s Mohammed Al Shamsi were the early leaders of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge 2009, after the opening two-kilometre super special stage was flagged off by His Excellency, Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) in Abu Dhabi today.

The trio will lead the car, motorcycle and quad categories into the first 270.60km desert special stage between Al Dhafra and the finish, on the road to Liwa, near the Humeem road in Abu Dhabi’s Empty Quarter (Monday March 23 2009).

Several hundred spectators joined Sheikh Sultan near the Rally HQ, Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club including the event's Chairman, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, FIA Vice President of Sport and the President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE). They saw 24 cars, 33 bikes, 11 quads and one truck into the short opening section to determine the starting order for the all-important first selective section.

Also present was Ahmed Hussein, Deputy Director General Tourism Operations at ADTA. ADTA is the title sponsor of this year’s event and Hussein said that the Desert Challenge is set to further bolster Abu Dhabi's reputation as Asia's capital for international motor sport.

In the motorcycle category, Przygonski finished the stage just over two seconds ahead of South African rider, Sean Gaugain, with Italy’s Fabio Benetti in third position on his Kawasaki. Tactics fast came into play among the leading runners, with pre-event favourites, James West, Marc Coma and Cyril Despres, finishing the special near the rear of the field in 32nd, 42nd and 43rdplaces.

Chicherit and Swedish co-driver, Tina Thorner in their German-built BMW X3 CC were more than 11 seconds faster than the UAE’s Ali Al Shawi and Ahmad Malik in the car category. Maurizio Traglio and Fabian Lurquin set the third fastest time and will shadow the leading two teams into the opening stage.

Gaugain was the fastest of the 450cc motorcycles and the UAE’s Mohammed Al-Shamsi headed the quad section on his Honda TRX. The Emirati was also faster than any of his two-wheel rivals.

X-raid Russia driver Leonid Novitskiy withdrew through illness before event documentation and Qatar’s Nasser Khalifa Al Attiyah was a second non-starter from the original car entry list.

Sixty-nine competitive machines completed the super special stage and will be flagged away from the official start at the landmark Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi (from 09.30am Monday March 23), before heading into the first of five punishing desert sections across the emirate’s Empty Quarter.

Leading positions after Super Special stage (2km): unofficial

1. Guerlain Chicherit (F)/Tina Thörner (S) BMW X3 CC 2m 11.55s
2. Ali Al Shawi (UAE)/Ahmad Malik ((UAE) Nissan Patrol 2m 23.41s
3. Maurizio Traglio (I)/Fabian Lurquin (F) Nissan Pathfinder 2m 24.51s
4. Glenn Reid (UAE)/Paul Richards (UAE) Honda Buggy 2m 26.91s
5. Nabil Al Shamsi (UAE)/Arif Yousef (UAE) Nissan Patrol 2m 28.91s
6. Matar Al Mansouri (UAE)/Rabab Al Tajir (UAE) Nissan Patrol 2m 29.66s
7. Abdul Bari Bin Soughat (UAE)/Ali Mirza (UAE) Nissan Patrol 2m 29.72s

1. Jakub Przygonski (PL) KTM 690 R 2m 11.44s
2. Sean Gaugain (ZA) Honda CRF 450X 2m 14.10s
3. Fabio Benetti (I) Kawasaki KLX 450 2m 15.22s
4. Paulo Ceci (I) Aprilia RXV Africa 2m 16.35s
5. Simon Pavey (AUS) Honda CRF 450 2m 17.08s
6. Mark Ackerman (ZA) KTM 450 R 2m 18.59s

1. Mohammed Al Shamsi (UAE) Honda TRX 2m 05.87s
2. Obaid Echtibi (UAE) Honda TRX 2m 10.30s
3. Razvan Iremescu (RO) Yamaha Raptor 2m 10.90s
4. Rafal Sonik (PL) Honda TRX 700 2m 12.56s

2009/03/22 | 16:55 CET | Editor: MR/ADDC/Rita Konya

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