Attrition hit the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge field like a truck in Stage #1, with uneven dunes and fuel attrition hampering many competitors. Appropriately, the top performing vehicle on Monday was a pickup truck so iconically durable that deserts have historically been navigated in virtually every manner from insurgencies to motorsport.
Toyota Hiluxes swept the T1 podium with Nasser Al-Attiyah, Yazeed Al-Rajhi, and Henk Lategan completely in control. Al-Attiyah, who won the Prologue, continued his momentum as he beat Lategan and Al-Rajhi by nearly six minutes, while fellow Hilux driver Juan Cruz Yacopini was fifth. Martin Prokop‘s Ford Raptor was fourth but still placed nine minutes back of Al-Attiyah.
Prodrive’s two Hunters Sébastien Loeb and Guerlain Chicherit have long been projected as Al-Attiyah’s biggest rivals, but mechanical gremlins that doomed their Dakar Rally overall hopes came back to haunt Loeb as a damaged cooling pipe knocked him out after thirty-nine kilometres. Chicherit was the closest contender to Al-Attiyah but stopped twice due to motion sickness; although he managed to finish the stage, the medical development forced him to retire from the rally altogether.
“We had the water pipe problem that we’ve never seen before over all the thousands of kilometres of testing and competition we’ve done, but that’s another step on the learning curve for us,” commented Bahrain Raid Xtreme team principal Gus Beteli. “We’ll get the car ready for tomorrow and attack these stages here in Abu Dhabi to get as many Championship points as we can. Guerlain’s car was perfect so it’s such a shame for him to feel sick in the dunes even after the treatment he’s had after Dakar so we wish him well to recover for Mexico.”
Chicherit was not the only competitor to experience health episodes during the day. Rally2 rider Vincent Biau had woken up feeling ill and took medication before starting the leg, but found himself having to stop multiple times to vomit or rest. While Biau had been exhibiting symptoms prior to the race, many noted that the stage was particularly difficult due to an abundance of broken dunes and high temperatures.
Route conditions meant even the healthy were not safe from trouble as fuel became a major concern. T3’s Cristina Gutiérrez, the first car to begin the stage, ran out with ten kilometres before reaching the refuelling area and had to be towed by her Red Bull team-mate Austin Jones. Elsewhere in the class, Mattias Ekström‘s gas tank ran empty and forced him to wait until South Racing ally Tim Marklund came with help, only for Marklund to lose a belt shortly after. Rally2’s Ashish Raorane lost his front fuel tank after the fuel hose disconnected which forced him to ride conservatively to the refuel station nearly 100 kilometres later, while Quad rider Paweł Otwinowski was less fortunate as his Yamaha Raptor ran out right before the finish and he needed assistance from another racer.
The RallyGP category lost another rider after Sebastian Bühler retired for a mechanical issue halfway through, ending his race after just two days. The top bike division was already without four regulars (Kevin Benavides, Daniel Sanders, Sam Sunderland, and Matthias Walkner) due to injuries sustained prior to the ADDC, while Bühler’s exit means there are now just ten remaining.
Bühler’s Hero MotoSports partner Ross Branch scored a podium in RallyGP behind Monster Energy Honda’s second straight 1–2 finish courtesy of Pablo Quintanilla and Adrien Van Beveren.
“The first stage was going very well for me, and I was enjoying a lot on my bike,” commented Bühler. “At around 100 kilometres, I had a mechanical problem, and had to wait a lot of time for the assistance to arrive and take the bike out. With the new rule, I cannot start the next stage. It’s sad, but this is racing and anything can happen.”
All but one of the six class winners from the Prologue repeated in Stage #1. The exception was in Rally2 as Prologue victor Tobias Ebster, the only entry among the six who is not competing for the World Rally-Raid Championship, fell off his bike two kilometres into the leg and lost his clutch after 240 km. This opened the door to W2RC-eligible Paolo Lucci taking the win while Ebster settled for third.
Stage #1 winners
|T1||201||Nasser Al-Attiyah||Toyota Gazoo Racing||3:08:51|
|T3||302||Seth Quintero||Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team||3:23:17|
|T4||400||Rokas Baciuška||Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team||3:32:21|
|RallyGP||7||Pablo Quintanilla||Monster Energy Honda Rally Team||3:00:15|
|Rally2||46||Paolo Lucci||BAS World KTM Racing Team||3:14:07|
|Quad||174||Abdulaziz Ahli||Abu Dhabi Team||3:52:17|
Leaders after Stage #1
|T1||201||Nasser Al-Attiyah||Toyota Gazoo Racing||3:13:36|
|T3||302||Seth Quintero||Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team||3:28:31|
|T4||400||Rokas Baciuška||Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team||3:37:40|
|RallyGP||7||Pablo Quintanilla||Monster Energy Honda Rally Team||3:40:15|
|Rally2||46||Paolo Lucci||BAS World KTM Racing Team||4:03:19|
|Quad||174||Abdulaziz Ahli||Abu Dhabi Team||4:39:53|