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Chicherit, Shamsi take early lead
Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge : Super Special
Professional X-raid driver Guerlain Chicherit, Poland's Jakub Przygonski and the UAE's Mohammed Al Shamsi were the early leaders of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge 2009, after the opening two-kilometre super special stage was flagged
off by Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority His Excellency Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi on Sunday afternoon.

The trio will now lead their respective car, motorcycle and quad categories into the first 270.60km desert special stage or leg 1 between Al Dhafra and the finish on the road to Liwa, near the Humeem road in Abu Dhabi's Empty Quarter, on Monday.

Several hundred spectators joined Sheikh Sultan near the Rally HQ, Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club, to see the event's Chairman Mohammed Ben Sulayem FIA Vice President of Sport and the President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE), flag 24 cars, 33 bikes, 11 quads and one truck into the short opening section to determine the starting order for the all-important first selective section.

Also present was Ahmed Hussein, Deputy Director General Tourism Operations at Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA). ADTA is the title sponsor of this year's event and Hussein said that the Desert Challenge is set to further bolster Abu Dhabi's reputation as Asia's capital for international motor sport.

In the motorcycle category, Przygonski finished the stage just over two seconds ahead of South African rider Sean Gaugain, with Italy's Fabio Benetti in third position on his Kawasaki.
Tactics came into play among the leading runners, with pre-event favourites, James West, Marc Coma and Cyril Despres, finishing the special near the rear of the field in 32nd, 42nd and 43rd places.

Chicherit and Swedish co-driver Tina Thorner were over 11 seconds faster than the UAE's Ali Al Shawi and Ahmad Malik in the car category in their German-built BMW X3 CC. Maurizio Tragia and Fabian Lurquin set the third fastest time and will shadow the leading two teams into the opening stage on Monday.

Gaugain was also the fastest of the 450cc motorcycles and the UAE's Mohammed Al-Shamsi headed the quad section on his Honda TRX from fellow countryman Obaid Echtibi. The Emirati was also faster than any of his two-wheel rivals. X-raid Russia driver Leonid Novitskiy withdrew through illness before event documentation and Qatar's Nasser Khalifa Al Attiyah was a second non-starter from the original car entry list.

The 69 competitive machines that did complete the super special stage will be flagged away from the official start at the landmark Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi from 09.30hrs on Monday morning. Invited guests will join Mohammed Ben Sulayem to see off the international field, before teams head into the first of five punishing desert selective sections across the emirate's Empty Quarter.

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