2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge: Stage 4 fogs up overall picture

The fog that descended upon Qasr Al Sarab on Thursday did more than delay the start of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge‘s penultimate stage by two hours and cut the FIA classes’ race in half. Whether it be Pablo Quintanilla going from second in RallyGP to out of the rally entirely or the T1 entries jockeying for the top spot post-Nasser Al-Attiyah‘s retirement, the complexion of the overall class pictures became as cloudy as the desert morning that day.

After Al-Attiyah crashed out while leading in Stage #3, Yazeed Al-Rajhi inherited first overall in T1 with a nine-minute advantage over Martin Prokop. Al-Rajhi, seeking his first ADDC victory, provided some distance from the 2018 winner when he finished ahead of him by forty-six seconds; Al-Rajhi was third behind Sébastien Loeb and Henk Lategan, both of whom are out of overall contention due to early retirements. Prokop now trails Al-Rajhi by 10:27.

While unable to claim the ADDC outright, Loeb’s stage win gives him five bonus points towards the World Rally-Raid Championship T1. Already the points leader exiting the Dakar Rally, squeezing out stage points gives Loeb more of a cushion over Al-Attiyah after the latter’s wreck. Still, Loeb needs to reach the finish on Friday to guarantee the points he attained count towards the standings

“It wasn’t an easy stage to read as there were some broken dunes and you had to be extra careful as you couldn’t see where they were,” said Loeb. “We could’ve been in sixth gear in many more places than we were, no problem, but we had to be very careful. We had one landing that was a big hit so it proved you can get caught, but the car took it and we’re back at the bivouac all together. For the championship, today brings more points but we must finish tomorrow to get those points when we return to Abu Dhabi.”

In RallyGP, Stage #4 ended with an inverse as Luciano Benavides beat Adrien Van Beveren for the stage win by three minutes (3:22, to be exact), and now trails Van Beveren for the overall by three minutes (2:58). Ven Beveren had battled with Honda team-mate Quintanilla for the top position throughout the first four days but the latter’s bike broke down at the 220th kilometre to knock him out.

José Ignacio Cornejo, also a Honda rider, is third and behind his ally by 6:14. The top seven are separated by less than nine minutes.

“After the delay this morning, I was really motivated to push as hard as I could right from the start and try to make up as much time as I could to the guys in front,” Benavides commented. “This stage on last year’s race was the first stage I had ever won, so it was nice to top the timesheets again this year. The bike is working really well, and I’m really happy with the job the team are doing here. There’s one day left, and I will be opening the stage. My goal is to take the win; it won’t be easy, but I’ll certainly do my best.”

Another overall shake-up took place in Rally2 as Paolo Lucci lost the lead to Jean-Luc Lepan after faulty wiring forced him to stop after 290 kilometres; Lucci, who had been leading the overall since Stage #1, also dislocated his left wrist earlier in the day following a rough landing. The misfortunes dropped Lucci to third and 10:56 behind Lepan, while Prologue winner Tobias Ebster lurks with a forty-three-second deficit to the leader.

Meanwhile, Rally2 rider Konrad Dąbrowski retired due to back pain that developed in Stage #1 from bike suspension problems and accumulated over time. Classmate Jon Florea overturned while attempting to climb a steep dune and had his bike fall on him, and his torn left shoulder from the first stage prevented him from pushing it off until the T3 of Dania Akeel and her co-driver Taye Perry stopped to help; although Akeel had 1:30 removed from her time for the gesture which moved her to seventh in class, she was later disqualified for a non-compliant turbocharger restrictor. Fellow T3 driver Cristina Gutiérrez was also busted for the same infraction, but received a roughly 77-hour penalty (24:30 in Stage #1, 25:45 in #2, 26:54 in #3) instead as the verdict was handed down after she began Stage #4; Gutiérrez eventually retired from the rally for a mechanical failure.

Stage #2 T3 winner Mattias Ekström had fifty hours slapped onto his final time after changing his engine between the third and fourth days. Such a fate had befallen Loeb on Tuesday to take him out of the overall.

Due to the weather delaying the start by two hours, the stage ended after 174 kilometres—the refuel area—for FIA classes while Bikes and Quads ran the full 308-km distance. The 308 Special Stage kilometres are the most of the ADDC.

Stage #4 winners

Class Number Competitor Team Time
T1 200 Sébastien Loeb Bahrain Raid Xtreme 2:28:10
T3 302 Seth Quintero Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team 2:36:55
T4 405 Mansour Al-Helei* Abu Dhabi Team 2:36:48
RallyGP 77 Luciano Benavides Husqvarna Factory Racing 3:47:08
Rally2 76 Jean-Loup Lepan DUUST Diverse Racing 4:09:58
Quad 174 Abdulaziz Ahli Abu Dhabi Team 4:52:48
* – Not competing in World Rally-Raid Championship

Leaders after Stage #4

Class Number Competitor Team Time
T1 207 Yazeed Al-Rajhi Overdrive Racing 13:43:22
T3 302 Seth Quintero Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team 14:09:52
T4 400 Rokas Baciuška Red Bull Can-Am Factory Racing 14:31:06
RallyGP 42 Adrien Van Beveren Monster Energy Honda Rally Team 14:45:32
Rally2 76 Jean-Loup Lepan DUUST Diverse Racing 16:04:16
Quad 174 Abdulaziz Ahli Abu Dhabi Team 18:45:18