SUNDERLAND FASTEST ON STAGE ONE OF 2019 ABU DHABI DESERT CHALLENGE
The Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team got their 2019 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship campaign off to an excellent start with a win on stage one of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. Sam Sunderland posted the fastest time with teammate Luciano Benavides coming home in fourth.
The opening day of the 2019 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge saw riders cover a total of 370.86 kilometres as they left the famous Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi to head south, through the desert towards the bivouac at the Qasr Al Sarab resort. The strong winds and sandstorm that greeted riders at the start of the 261.97-kilometre timed special only added to the challenge of the stage.
Feeling fit and motivated following his Dakar Rally podium success earlier in the year, Sam Sunderland unquestionably comes into the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge as one of the favourites. Despite being the 10th rider away from the start of the timed special, the Brit soon found himself at the front, leading the way through the dunes. First to reach the finish, Sam now tops the provisional standings by over six minutes from second-placed Andrew Short.
Sam Sunderland: “I’m always a bit nervous to start a new championship, but myself and the team did some really good work in Morocco a few weeks ago and as such I felt really strong in the dunes here in Abu Dhabi. The conditions were really difficult today with the high winds and bad visibility. I pushed really hard right from the start and ended up opening from around kilometre 60. From there I just kept to a good pace and thankfully everything went well. Looking forward to tomorrow now.”
Forced to miss the 2018 event due to injury sustained in the Dakar Rally that year, Luciano Benavides put in an excellent performance on his first ever Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge stage to finish as fourth fastest. Still learning and gaining experience wherever he can, the young Argentinian currently sits over five minutes ahead of the fifth-placed rider going into Monday’s stage two.
Luciano Benavides: “That was a good day for me today – I learnt a lot about this desert as it is my first time here. I am happy to complete the first stage and overall, I am happy with my result, especially as I opened around 30-40 kilometres for the first time. I am pleased with my riding and will try to keep going like this and finish the race in a good position.”
Stage two of the 2019 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge will cover 434.19km in total, of which 222.80km will be timed special stage in the dunes of the United Arab Emirates.
Provisional Results Stage One – 2019 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
1. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 3:40:41
2. Andrew Short (USA), Husqvarna, 3:46:50 +6:09
3. Jose Ignacio Cornejo (CHL), Honda, 3:47:27 +6:46
4. Luciano Benavides (ARG), KTM, 3:49:48 +9:07
5. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 3:55:08 +14:27
8. Mohammed Al Balooshi (ARE), KTM, 4:23:30 +42:49
9. David McBride (GBR), KTM, 4:41:47 +1:01:06
10. Mohammed Meshari Jaffar (KWT), KTM, 4:44:56 +1:04:15