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Sunderland wins Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

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Dubai-based Briton Sam Sunderland secured the overall victory after the final dramatic Abu Dhabi Aviation-sponsored stage of 219.76km at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on Thursday.

A fascinating tussle ensued for supremacy in the motorcycle category. Honda’s Paulo Gonçalves began the last stage with a lead of 33.8 seconds, but starting order is crucial in this form of cross-country rallying and Dakar champion Sam Sunderland delivered a stunning ride on his Red Bull KTM 450 Rally to seal the stage win and earn his first Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge victory.

Starting eighth on the road was an obvious advantage and the Dubai-based rider’s strategy paid off handsomely. Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla bounced back from recent career setbacks to claim second place on his Rockstar Energy Husqvarna – 6min 13.7sec behind the winner – and Austrian Matthias Walkner won the battle with Paulo Gonçalves for third place.

Sam Sunderland crosses the last stage of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on his factory KTM 450 Rally.

“It feels cool, it’s been a long time coming,” said Sunderland. “This is my home race. I made a good start and it’s been the perfect race for me. It started well but it’s been really hard. I knew that I had to push hard this morning to make up the time quickly and that the first section was important. The team has been great, the bike’s been fantastic and it’s a great way to follow up the win in Dakar.”

Ride To Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed Al-Balooshi was the leading Arab finisher in seventh position.  “Very happy to finish this rally. It was tough. All the respect to the guys who finish ahead of me. They are super athletes. It is their job. Not being on this bike for a year. I did not expect more than this. My progress was stopped. I could not have done this without my team at Ride to Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Sports Council and all my sponsors. Without them, this sport is difficult. They play a key role.”
Thursday – as it happened

The final stage was only 219.76km in length and similar to stage one in reverse. Kevin Benavides was first on the road on his Honda but attention focused on the battle between Renet, Gonçalves, Walkner, Quintanilla and Sunderland for the stage win and the overall victory.

Sunderland delivered a master class performance through the crucial opening kilometres and, even though Quintanilla overtook Mohammed Jaffar early on, Sunderland passed both Jaffar and Al-Balooshi and was 3min 17sec fastest than the Chilean at PC1, after 88.52km. The victory was now the Englishman’s to lose over the closing kilometres of the bike race.

2017 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge – positions on leg 5 (Thursday – unofficial @ 13.45hrs):

Bikes

1. Sam Sunderland (GBR) KTM 450 Rally Factory
2hr 40min 20sec

2. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI) Husqvarna 450 Rally
2hr 46min 19sec

3. Matthias Walkner (AUT) KTM 450 Rally Factory
2hr 49min 18sec

4. Paulo Gonçalves (PRT) Honda 450 CRF Rally
2hr 52min 46sec

5. Pierre Alexander Renet (FRA) Husqvarna 450 Rally
2hr 55min 16sec

6. Antoine Meo (FRA)         KTM 450 Rally Factory
2hr 55min 52sec

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