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Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge: Coma regaines overall lead in Abu Dhabi

Spain's Marc Coma regained the overall lead in the motorcycle category of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, as surviving crews completed the fourth Hertz loop stage through the emirate's Empty Quarter to the south and east of Humeem, on Thursday.

Coma caught his great French rival Cyril Despres in the desert and the pair raced together to the finish of the penultimate stage of the UAE's premier off-road event, which is benefiting from title sponsorship from the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA).

The result sets up the prospect of a 'winner-takes-all' showdown between the world's top two cross-country riders in Friday's final off-road section back to Abu Dhabi. Despres will start the final stage two minutes behind his rival and will need to catch the Spaniard and close to within nine seconds at the end of the special to win the event for a record-breaking fifth time.

"It was not easy at all today," said Coma. "The wind was strong and the visibility was difficult for all the riders. It was a case of finding a safe pace and riding fast and safely. Tomorrow is a big day. It will decide the rally. All I can do is ride my best. All I can do is ride my best. If
he catches me he wins. I will try to make sure that he doesn't catch me."

BMW X-raid's Guerlain Chicherit and Swedish co-driver Tina Thörner maintained their dominance in the car category. The Frenchman produced a master class performance on the day's 314.95km timed section to take a fifth successive stage win. The pair now head into the final stage a staggering 2h 21m 42s in front of the second-placed Nissan Patrol crew of
the UAE's Yayha Al Helai and Khalid Al Kendi.

Local quad entrant Obaid Echtibi and South African rider Sean Gaugain were the stars of the day, with Echtibi winning the stage outright on his quad and Gaugain recording second position on his Honda. Sébastien Husseini finished the day in fourth and continues to lead the quad category.

Britain's David Mabbs and French co-driver Xavier Caminada have made their presence felt on the leader board in a Toyota FJ Cruiser - eighth place on the day's stage guaranteed that the Dubai-based Briton starts the final day in fifth overall.

Leg four – the story of the day

Despres and Coma continued their battle of cat and mouse through the fourth Hertz stage, which featured passage controls (PC) at the 78km, 109km, 154km and 243km points and headed through the region of Abu Dhabi's Empty Quarter to the south and east of Humeem.

Coma had gained 1m 31s on his rival through PC1 and extended his lead to 1m 47s through PC2, although South Africa's Sean Gaugain was the man in form on the day's stage. He headed Ullesvalseter by 17 seconds through 109km. Australia's Youcef Cummings was unable to restart after it emerged that he had aggravated an old collarbone injury during the third stage on Wednesday.

Ahmed Bin Soughat's third stage performance moved him up to 11th in the overall classification in the cars' category, but Chicherit began to pull well clear of his rivals through the opening kilometres of leg four. Bin Soughat and Al Helai were involved in a tense duel for second place in a pair of Nissan Patrols, as Chicherit reached the service point in two hours and romped home to record yet another stage win.

South Africa's Mark Ackerman began to turn up his pace through the middle of the stage and he and stage leader Gaugain were the form riders into the third checkpoint. Coma continued to shadow Despres through the sandy wastelands and his virtual stage lead over the Frenchman rose to 1m 54s.

Echtibi and Husseini benefited from the tactics of the leading duo and they surged through the closing kilometres to record the first and fourth fastest times on the day's stage. "I passed Sébastien and pushed on hard after the refuel, but to win the stage is fantastic," said a stunned

The day’s stage was stopped at PC4 with five cars and one motorcycle still in the special stage. This was as a result of deteriorating weather conditions and the fact that the safety helicopter could not fly over the final section of the stage. The affected entrants will be granted a notional time for that section. A sand storm has hampered visibility for the last two hours at the Tal Mureeb bivouac.

Tomorrow (Friday) is the final day of this year's Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and surviving teams will tackle one 275.93km selective section in a total route of 419.37km, according to event chairman Mohammed Ben Sulayem, FIA Vice-President for Sport and President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the United Arab Emirates (ATC UAE).

The single competitive section replaces the two shorter tests that have been used in previous years and the action finishes 60.44km from rally headquarters. Teams will then take a road liaison section to the ADIMSC in Abu Dhabi, where the ceremonial finish is scheduled from 4pm onwards.

Leading positions on Leg 4 - Hertz special (unofficial @ 13.35hrs):

1. Guerlain Chicherit (F)/Tina Thörner (S) BMW X3 CC 4h
23m 42s
2. Glenn Reid (AUS)/Paul Richards (GB) Honda Buggy 4h 35m 46s
3. Ahmed Bin Soughat (UAE)/Wael Marjan (UAE) Nissan Patrol 4h
43m 58s
4. Yayha Al Helai (UAE)/Khalid Al Kendi (UAE) Nissan Patrol 4h
49m 33s
5. Ali Al Shawi (UAE)/Ahmad Malik (UAE) Nissan Patrol 5h 09m 37s
6. Abdullah Al-Herais (UAE)/Haleem Bin Zayed (UAE) Nissan Patrol 5h
15m 09s

1. Obaid Echtibi (UAE) Honda TRX 4h 19m 34s*
2. Sean Gaugain (ZA) Honda CRF 450X 4h 19m 53s
3. Jakub Przygonski (PL) KTM 690 R 4h 20m 17s
4. Sébastien Husseini (NL) KTM 525 XC 4h 21m 33s*
5. Mark Ackerman (ZA) KTM 450 4h 23m 06s
6. Pal-Anders Ullesvalseter (N) KTM 690 R 4h 23m 57s
7. Dave McBride (GB) Honda CRF 450 X 4h 25m 01s
8. Marc Coma (E) KTM 690 R 4h 25m 48s
9. Cyril Despres (F) KTM 690 R 4h 28m 00s
* denotes quad

Overall positions after Leg 4 (unofficial @ 13.35hrs):

1. Guerlain Chicherit (F)/Tina Thörner (S) BMW X3 CC 16h
34m 39s
2. Yayha Al Helai (UAE)/Khalid Al Kendi (UAE) Nissan Patrol 18h
56m 21s
3. Abdullah Al-Herais (UAE)/Haleem Bin Zayed (UAE) Nissan Patrol 19h
57m 03s
4. Ali Al Shawi (UAE)/Ahmad Malik (UAE) Nissan Patrol 21h 21m 47s
5. David Mabbs (GB)/Xavier Caminada (F) Toyota FJ Cruiser 22h
12m 59s

1. Marc Coma (E) KTM 690 R 16h 36m 23s
2. Cyril Despres (F) KTM 690 R 16h 38m 13s
3. Pal-Anders Ullesvalseter (N) KTM 690 R 16h 45m 58s
4. Sean Gaugain (ZA) Honda CRF 450X 16h 58m 14s
5. Jakub Przygonski (PL) KTM 690 R 17h 07m 36s
6. Mark Ackerman (ZA) KTM 450 17h 09m 32s
7. Dave McBride (GB) Honda CRF 450 X 17h 12m 15s

2009/03/26 | 14:44 CET | Editor: MR/ADDC/Rita Konya

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