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Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge: Coma passes Despres to lead motorcycle category.

BMW X-raid’s Guerlain Chicherit and Spaniard Marc Coma controlled proceedings at the end of a punishing 296.75-km desert loop stage of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, around the Tal Mureeb bivouac in Abu Dhabi, on Tuesday.

Despite minor overheating problems, Chicherit extended his overall lead in the car category to 50m 28s over the UAE’s Yayha Al-Helai in a Nissan Patrol. The Emirati lost around eight minutes stuck in the sand dunes within sight of the stage finish.

“The first 210 kms were very good, but then the engine put itself into ‘security mode’ and we had the alarm,” said Chicherit. “I stopped a couple of times. It was a very hard stage and I am so glad to be here and still leading the rally. It’s great experience for me to be opening the road. It doesn’t happen very often. I am in a good position after two days and need to keep it going.”

Meanwhile, Coma passed four-time champion Cyril Despres to hold an unofficial lead of 1m 25s in the motorcycle section at the end of the second of five legs of this opening round of both the 2009 FIM Cross-Country World Championship and FIA World Cup. “Today was the first day in the big dunes and the real desert,” said Coma. “I am glad to be here with no real problems and we can see tomorrow where we lie and what we will do.”

The revelation of the day was South African rider Sean Gaugain who won the stage outright and now leads the 450cc class moved up from eighth to fourth overall.

He was delighted with his maiden stage win at this level: “I did not expect to win today and I will enjoy the moment. I pushed hard at the start and relaxed a little in the middle and had a couple of small crashes. But it was not easy and I am now looking forward to leading the way into the next stage.”

The UAE’s Obaid Echtibi topped the quad section on the day, but British rider James West crashed out of the stage lead after the first checkpoint and sustained a fractured right femur.

The treacherous soft sand and high temperatures played havoc with entrants lower down the field and numerous drivers and riders lost time in the sand bowls, while negotiating the notorious dunes.

Low-lying fog was prevalent at the start of the second loop stage and the action was delayed for 75 minutes on safety grounds. Despres planned to push from the outset to try and extend his overall lead over Coma, but it is never easy to extend an advantage from the front and the Spaniard was 1m 39s quicker than his French rival at the first passage control (PC) to take a virtual overall lead.

West and Gaugain were the early front-runners, as the stage meandered through the treacherous sand dunes and along the narrow, winding Bedouin trails that make the loop stages of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge so demanding.

But West fell shortly after the opening PC and broke his right leg. Despres duly reduced Coma’s virtual stage lead to 1m 20s, although Gaugain was the fastest rider on the stage through the third checkpoint at 160km and maintained a sensational pace through the closing kilometres to record a memorable stage win.

Chicherit retained his composure to extend his overall lead in the car category, as he adapted to receiving route notes in English from his Swedish co-driver. The Frenchman was over seven minutes ahead of Portugal’s Ricardo Leal dos Santos through PC1. Buggy driver Glenn Reid returned to the bivouac with clutch master cylinder problems, but Chicherit eventually reached the stage finish well clear of last year’s runner-up, Al-Helai.

The solitary Italian Iveco truck, crewed by Marco Dono, Graciano Pelanconi and A. Bettiga, began the day in 15th position the road, but was badly delayed between the first and second passage controls and eventually held 12th place on the stage through PC2.

A medical update on quad rider Mohammed Al Shamsi revealed that the UAE rider sustained four broken vertebrae and a fractured rib in Monday’s fall, although there is no neurological damage and he is expected to make a full recovery.

The 2009 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge has the backing of key players, including the event's title sponsor, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), Nissan, ADNOC, Beach Rotana - Abu Dhabi, etisalat, Explorer, Hertz, Lambda Electronics, Oasis Water, TAG Heuer and the ADIMSC.

Leading positions on Leg 2:

1. Guerlain Chicherit (F)/Tina Thörner (S) BMW X3 CC 4h 31m 43s
2. Yayha Al Helai (UAE)/Khalid Al Kendi (UAE) Nissan Patrol 5h 04m 25s
3. Ahmed Bin Soughat (UAE)/Wael Marjan (UAE) Nissan Patrol 5h 35m 44s
4. Abdullah Al-Herais (UAE)/Haleem Bin Zayed (UAE) Nissan Patrol 5h 46m 43s

1. Sean Gaugain (ZA) Honda CRF 450X 4h 24m 24s
2. Pal-Anders Ullesvalseter (N) KTM 690 R 4h 28m 53s
3. Jakub Przygonski (PL) KTM 690 R 4h 30m 29s
4. Marc Coma (E) KTM 690 R 4h 30m 36s
5. Cyril Despres (F) KTM 690 R 4h 32m 34s
6. Dave McBride (GB) Honda CRF 450 X 4h 36m 34s

Overall positions after Leg 2:

1. Guerlain Chicherit (F)/Tina Thörner (S) BMW X3 CC 7h 06m 43s
2. Yayha Al Helai (UAE)/Khalid Al Kendi (UAE) Nissan Patrol 7h 57m 11s
3. Abdullah Al-Herais (UAE)/Haleem Bin Zayed (UAE) Nissan Patrol 8h 50m 37s
4. Ali Al Shawi (UAE)/Ahmed Malik (UAE) Nissan Patrol 9h 29m 06s

1. Marc Coma (E) KTM 690 R 7h 26m 12s
2. Cyril Despres (F) KTM 690 R 7h 27m 37s
3. Pal-Anders Ullesvalseter (N) KTM 690 R 7h 30m 29s
4. Sean Gaugain (ZA) Honda CRF 450X 7h 42m 42s
5. Dave McBride (GB) Honda CRF 450 X 7h 45m 42s
6. Jakub Przygonski (PL) KTM 690 R 7h 47m 40s

2009/03/25 | 23:02 CET | Editor: MR/ADDC/Rita Konya

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