KTM’s Toby Price has come out on top with victory at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
Marking the opening round of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, Price led home teammate Sam Sunderland and Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla in third to claim the top step of the podium.
“To come away with a win is a bonus but racing these guys is what makes it fun,” told Price. “It feels good to be pushed close to the limit to get the job done, this is what it’s all about.”
The battle to become the new bikes champion has been a fascinating one as the rally swept through the dunes and desert plains of the Western Region of Al Gharbia, with Price and Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla each taking the lead twice, Sam Sunderland always close at hand.
Price, this year’s Dakar Rally winner, made his decisive move for victory on the final Abu Dhabi Aviation Stage, winning it from KTM team-mate Sunderland to take victory by 2 mins 11 seconds from the Dubai-based rider, with Quintanilla another 1 min 12 seconds away on his Husqvarna.
Sunderland, back in action now recovered from his broken femur remarked…
“What a week, I’m happy to come back strong with second overall after a tight race with Toby and Pablo all week fighting,” told Sunderland. “The first 100kms on the final stage was like desert motocross on rally bikes, it was so much fun.”
Quintanilla took the second stage win and was never out of the top three both in the individual stages.
Quintanilla held the overall lead entering the final stage, but his two rivals were behind him and they could follow the deep tyre marks in the soft sand and exert pressure and speed from behind.
The final stage was fast and furious with all of three leaders chasing the win. Quintanilla pushed particularly hard over the first 100km and it was only after the refuelling stop that his two rivals were able to take the fight to the end.
At the finish he was just three minutes 23 seconds off the pace of eventual winner Toby Price in an event that had quickly developed into a contest between three main protagonists – Price, Quintanilla and Sunderland, who took second place
The challenge to compete against three of the world’s top factory team riders brought the best out of the UAE’s Mohammed Al Balooshi who rode faultlessly to finish fourth on his privately entered KTM.
Husqvarna’s Pela Renet delivered an impressive ride as he gets to grip with rally racing. A stage winner, Renet ended his raced fifth overall.
“I opened a rally stage for the first time today and I’m happy that I finished the final stage in fourth place,” Renet commented. “With the fifth place in the overall classification of the Desert Challenge I leave the opening round of the world championship with a very good feeling!”
KTM’s Laia Sanz typified the spirit of the rally when she stopped to help fellow-Spaniard Txomin Arana Cobeaga, who crashed 20km from the end of the stage, staying with him until a Search and Rescue team arrived within ten minutes, giving him all her water supply.
Cobeaga was evacuated by helicopter to Mafraq Hospital with back and chest injuries, and Sanz went on to complete the stage to finish sixth overall.
“Riding a rally (we are) like a family, we all push, and we compete but we look out for each other,” she said at the end. “The result today doesn't matter. The first thing I thought about was not the race, just making sure he'd be ok.”
The series continues with the Sealine Cross-Country Rally in Qatar on April 17-22.
1. Toby Price (AUS) KTM 450 Rally Factory 1 18:18.24
2. Sam Sunderland (GBR) KTM 450 Rally Factory 1 18:20.35
3. Pablo Quintanilla (CHL) Husqvarna 450 Rally Factory 1 18:21.47
4. Mohammed Al Balooshi (ARE) KTM 450 Rally Replica 18:56.38
5. Pierre Alexandre Renet (FRA) 18:57.02
6. Laia Sanz (ESP) KTM 450 Rally Factory 1/3 19:19.25
7. Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo (CHL) 19:19.28
8. Jakub Piatek (POL) KTM 450 Rally Replica 1/4 19:27.57
9. David McBride (GBR) KTM 450 Rally Replica 1 19:37.17
10. David Thomas (GBR) Husqvarna 450 Rally Replica 1 20:51.22