Desert Challenge : Leg 2 - Summary
Former World Champion downhill skier Luc Alphand proved today (Tuesday) that that he is just as much at home on sand as he used to be on snow as he swept into the lead in dramatic style in the UAE Desert Challenge.
On a scorching
day in the Empty Quarter as this spectacular event tested the world's best drivers and riders to the limit, Alphand grabbed a 14 mins 24 secs cushion over veteran Jean-Louis Schlesser as Carlos Sainz saw his overnight lead destroyed.
Two-time former World Rally Champion Sainz and Alphand had been fighting out a thrilling, high-speed battle for the lead in classic style, but the dashing Spaniard's hopes of a Desert Challenge victory at the first attempt were shattered by a broken drive shaft.
While he was eventually able to re-start following a delay of more than three hours, after his Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 prototype had been repaired at the service area, he was later to collect massive time penalties plunging him down the field.
Finishing the day in third place in another Volkswagen was Portugal's Carlos Sousa. His team-mate, former World Rally Champion Ari Vatanen, France's defending champion, Stephane Peterhansel, in a Mitsubishi, and Spain's Jose Luis Monterde in a BMW, completed the top six.
In the bikes battle, Spain's Marc Coma finished the leg leading Frenchman Cyril Despres by just over five minutes, with another Frenchman, David Casteu, still in fifth place and edging closer to the FIM Cross Country Rallies world title.
Sainz was just one of a stream of casualties claimed by the 304-km Nakheel Special Stage 2 which took the cars, bikes and trucks on a meandering journey across a sea of giant dunes.
Qatar's Middle East rally champion Nasser Al Attiyah slipped from third overnight to seventh when transmission problems in his BMW X3CC cost him an hour in lost time.
Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka also lost an hour because of mechanical problems with his Mitsubishi Evolution and dropped from sixth to tenth by the end of the day.
First-time visitor Mark Corbett of South Africa, winner of the opening Dubai super special stage in his Nissan Navara, held on to his top-ten place despite reporting that the passage through the dunes left him feeling “sea sick.” Leading the UAE challenge in 11th place after the first leg. Yahya Alhelei just managed to hold on to that position despite an overheating engine and clutch problems in his Liberty Team Chevrolet Colorado.
Held under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the 2006 UAE Desert Challenge is sponsored by Nakheel, the premier property developer behind Dubai's most spectacular projects.
The duel between Sainz and Alphand was developing into one of the most intriguing, and action-packed, in the 16-year history of the Desert Challenge before the Spaniard was halted abruptly. After Alphand had caught and overtaken Sainz early on in the stage, the two indulged in a breath-taking cat and mouse game for 180kms.
“I started very fast, overtook Carlos and set the pace, which wasn't easy because of the dunes,” said Alphand, world No.1 in men's downhill skiing in 1995, 1996 and 1997. “At times he was just five metres behind me and when it's like that you just have to be focused.”
Sousa was clearly feeling the heat at the end of the stage, saying: “Today was much harder than yesterday and with these temperatures, maybe too many kms in the race The last 50 km was very tough.”
Also looking forward to a cold shower was Vatanen who said: “I'm suffering – I don't know how to say it in English – but (in my language) we say heat paralysed. It is like working in a sauna. It was 65 degrees in the cockpit.”
Peterhansel finished the stage to say: “The dunes were very demanding and their size meant that they could be dangerous. It was difficult to get a good rhythm because of the dunes. I could see the dust of Jean-Louis but it was impossible to catch him.”
If you are going to drop out of an event after travelling just 50 metres on the second day, it always helps if you have already been crowned world champion. This was how Russia's Sergey Shmakov said farewell to the 2006 UAE Desert Challenge and the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup, having secured the drivers' title in Egypt last month. But his departure opened the door for Mitsubishi to take the World Cup team title.