History has been made at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge with Stéphane and Andrea Peterhansel (FRA/GER) the first married couple team to take an overall win at the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies. There was further success for the Red Bull Desert Wings squad at the five-stage rally with wins for Sam Sunderland (GBR) and Fahad Al Musallam (KUW) in the bike and quad contests respectively.
This was the first time Stéphane and Andrea had teamed up to race in the car class of a cross-country rally. They had enjoyed success in side-by-side (SxS) racing previously, but this was a whole new ball game.
“Our strategy was to stay safe and we never got stuck in the dunes on any of the five days. We had no technical problems and we never lost the road.” – Stéphane Peterhansel
It was soon apparent in the deserts of Abu Dhabi that Stéphane’s 13 Dakar Rally wins and Andrea’s own wealth of offroad racing experience were going to stand the couple in good stead. With Stéphane at the wheel and Andrea giving pace notes, they hit the front following the second of five desert stages. While the chasing pack faltered, the winning duo kept their MINI John Cooper Works Rally on the right track and took the chequered flag at the Yas Marina Circuit.
“It was a huge experience and we’re so happy to share this victory together. Thanks to the team and to everybody who brought us to this moment.” – Andrea Peterhansel
Underlining the extreme difficulty of the contest were the problems that beset Dakar regulars Cyril Despres (FRA) and Kuba Przygonski (POL). Despite winning the first stage, things took a turn for the worse for Despres and co-driver Dani Oliveras (ESP) after that early success. A series of stoppages in the soft sand for their MINI John Cooper Works Buggy on the remaining stages saw the pair eventually finish the rally eighth overall.
“After winning the first stage things were looking good. But on day two our problems started with a wheel off the rim and the hydraulic jack getting blocked.” – Cyril Despres
Przygonski and his co-driver Timo Gottschalk (GER) were in the hunt for victory after setting the fastest time on stage three. However, disaster struck at the beginning of day four as they failed to start the stage due mechanical issues with their MINI Buggy.
There were no such problems for bike race winner Sunderland who held his lead from start to finish of the 1,300-kilometre course. The 2017 Dakar champion was looking back to his best as the tore over the dunes and victory rarely looked in doubt.
“I’m really happy with the job that was done all week by the team and my own performance. It’s a great start to the World Championship.” – Sam Sunderland
Sunderland was followed home by fellow Red Bull KTM Factory Team biker Luciano Benavides (ARG). The runners-up finish for the young Argentinian rider is the first FIM Cross-Country Rallies Championship podium of his career and a moment to cherish.
“The team got a one-two finish so this is really good for us. I’m so happy and now it’s time to enjoy a little bit.” – Luciano Benavides
Ride the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge with the KTM team here
Elsewhere on the bikes, there were Top 10 finishes for Mohammed Jaffar (KUW) and Mohammed Balooshi (UAE) to celebrate, while Anastasiya Nifontova (RUS) was the highest place female biker – finishing an impressive 14th overall.
Two stage wins out of five helped Fahad Al Musallam (KUW) to victory in the quad contest. Al Musallam was in a determined mood all week as he dug deep to hold off the challenge of former Dakar champion Rafal Sonik (POL).
With three category wins across cars, bikes and quads it looks like the Red Bull Desert Wings squad have got plenty more success stories lined up for 2019 cross-country season.
Overall car results:
Overall bike results:
Stéphane Peterhansel: “The expectation beforehand was not to win the race. After the first day we saw that things were all going OK. Then when we took the lead on the second day we thought that we should try and keep it. Our strategy was to stay safe and we never got stuck in the dunes on any of the five days. We had no technical problems and we never lost the road. It’s a great feeling because this is the first time we did a race in a real racing car together and we won the race.”
Andrea Peterhansel: “The result is much better than we ever expected. I was unwell before the race so the idea was to just see how we go. Then as each day passed I was able to get more and more confident. We saw many cars having big problems in the dunes, but for us things all went very smoothly. It was a tough race, we had sandstorms that effected visibility as well as the usual problems you get racing in the desert. I always knew Stéphane was a great driver, but to be in the car and see how he reacts to different situations was really something. Day by day we progressed and in the end it was good enough to win the race. It was a huge experience and we’re so happy to share this victory together. Thanks to the team and to everybody who brought us to this moment.”
Cyril Despres: “I tried to do my best, but it was not a good race for us. After winning the first stage things were looking good. But on day two our problems started with a wheel off the rim and the hydraulic jack getting blocked. This destroyed the possibility of a good result and that’s always frustrating.”
Kuba Przygonski: “It was a complicated race for us. We had a good rhythm and won two stages, nearly three. We were having a good time, Timo and me, and learning how to get the most out of the buggy. We need to keep working on the buggy to make it more reliable.”
Sam Sunderland: “We had our last stage strategy and it was important for me to execute the plan. The stage started in the dunes and then got faster and faster. Then I was able to ease off to the finish. I’m really happy with the job that was done all week by the team and my own performance. It’s a great start to the World Championship.”
Luciano Benavides: “It’s been an incredible day for me. I knew I had to push a lot to make the second place. I was pushing, but also aware I needed to stay on the bike. The bike was feeling good so I went on the attack. The team got a one-two finish so this is really good for us. I’m so happy and now it’s time to enjoy a little bit.”