Cyril Despres and navigator Daniel Oliveras have powered into the lead of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge after the opening day of competition in the second round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies. The French/Spanish pairing hold a five minute 45 second advantage over Bernhard Ten Brinke/Tom Colsoul with legendary cross country driver Stéphane Peterhansel third with wife Andrea in the co-driver’s seat.

Today’s opener took the crews from the world-class facilities at the Yas Marina Circuit in the UAE capital on a southerly route to the start of the 261.97 kilometre selective section. After more than three and a half hours of competitive action, the crews arrived at the purpose-built bivouac in the heart of the famed Rub Al Khali desert, near the border with Saudi Arabia, having contended with scorching temperatures, high winds, sandstorms and numerous sand spits.

Despres, who won the Desert Challenge no fewer than five times on a bike, started 10th on the road in the MINI John Cooper Works Buggy and got into a good rhythm in his first outing with co-driver Oliveras, despite feeling he needed to ease himself back into cross country rallying. “I was getting back into it and we were on the limit of enjoying and pushing,” said the Frenchman of only his second attempt on four wheels. “It’s a long time since I started a stage with such strong winds and it was tricky, not easy and you couldn’t see the crest of the dunes.”

Bernhard Ten Brinke and Tom Colsoul had an eventful start and were forced to stop 40 kilometres into the section. “We jumped a dune and a tyre came off the rim,” said the Dutch Toyota driver. “After that it was very good and we were opening the road for nearly 170 kilometres, dicing with Jakub [Przygonski] until he had a problem near the end.”

Stéphane and Andrea Peterhansel made a great start to the event, despite losing the air conditioning and nursing a possible gearbox problem. The pair, in only their second outing together, finished the leg third, seven minutes 43 seconds adrift of the lead.

Martin Prokop, co-driven by Viktor Chytka, had a difficult start, the Czech driver suffering with sickness in the car and a resultant lack of energy. It was a case of survival to the finish but he was also Jakub Przygonski saviour when he stopped to tow the stricken Pole’s car more than five kilometres to the finish. Prokop still finished fourth with Przygonski/Gottschalk fifth in their second outing in the MINI John Cooper Works Buggy. They had set the pace throughout the section, but then a broken driveshaft left them effectively stranded, until Prokop unusually stopped to tow them to the finish.

Khalid Al Qassimi, partnered by Xavier Panseri, is sixth in the Peugeot 3008 DKR, the Emirati finding it difficult with the wind and sand. Aron Domzala, who is competing in a third Toyota Hilux Overdrive, is a fine seventh with co-driver Maciej Marton. The pair found the going tough but had no big mistakes but Domzala was another to feel ill in the car.

Casey Currie has taken the lead in T3, the American ahead of fellow Can Am Maverick driver Reinaldo Varela, who won the category on the opening round in Qatar. They are eighth and ninth overall with Vladimir Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov, double winners in Abu Dhabi, 10th after losing time stuck in the dunes. Alexander Baranenko leads T2 in a Toyota Landcruiser 200.

Yazeed Al Rajhi, who led the crews into the section this morning, had a disastrous opening leg and was stranded in the desert with a transmission problem.

The action resumes on Monday with the second selective section of 222.80 kilometres.

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge – Provisional results after Leg 1 (18:00 hrs local)


Cyril Despres/Daniel Oliveras

MINI John Cooper Works Buggy

3hr 39min 15.0sec


Bernhard Ten Brinke/Tom Colsoul

Toyota Hilux Overdrive

3hr 45min 00.0sec


Stéphane Peterhansel/Andrea Peterhansel

MINI John Cooper Works Rally

3hr 46min 58.0sec


Martin Prokop/Viktor Chytka

Ford Raptor RS Cross Country

3hr 50min 01.0sec


Jakub Przygonski/Timo Gottschalk

MINI John Cooper Works Buggy

3hr 54min 02.0sec


Sh. Khalid Al Qassimi/Xavier Panseri

Peugeot 3008 DKR

3hr 54min 24.0sec


Aron Domzala/Maciej Marton

Toyota Hilux Overdrive

3hr 57min 10.0sec


Casey Currie/Laurent Lichtleuchter

Can Am Maverick X3

4hr 04min 35.0sec


Reinaldo Varela/Gustavo Gugelmin

Can Am Maverick X3

4hr 05min 43.0sec


Vladimir Vasilyev/Konstantin Zhiltsov


4hr 08min 08.0sec