Desert Challenge : Leg 3 - Summary
If Luc Alphand needs any reminding that the battle for victory in the UAE Desert Challenge is far from over after three days, he can turn to Mitsubishi team-mate Stephane Peterhansel.
On another blazing hot day in the Empty Quarter,
Alphand extended his overall lead from 14 to 22 minutes, despite being outpaced by four minutes on the FedEx Special Stage 3 by Peterhansel, the defending champion.
Having built such a healthy advantage, the former world champion downhill skier cannot afford to relax and start thinking of how another win will look on his already enormously impressive CV.
The Desert Challenge is a beauty with the ability to transform itself into a beast, as Peterhansel has discovered on more than one occasion. Two years ago, pursuing a third successive cars victory in the event, his hopes of a hat-trick were buried in the sands of the Rub Al Khali on the first day.
Fast forward to this year's first leg on Monday, and Peterhansel's crash in the mighty dunes that guard the Desert Challenge trail removed the front end of his car and broke the steering.
While he would certainly not wish a similar fate on his fellow-Frenchman and team-mate, the fact remains that there are still 665kms of competitive stages and demanding desert driving to be negotiated before Monsieur Alphand can celebrate in Dubai on Friday afternoon.
As a team, Mitsubishi will not mind whether it is Alphand, or Peterhansel, who claims the victory laurels, particularly as a win for either will give them the team title in the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup.
Peterhansel's charge on day three allowed him to climb three places and relegate five-times Desert Challenge winner, Jean-Louis Schlesser, to third place in his buggy.
The major casualty on the day was former World Rally Champion Ari Vatanen, who had to retire his Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 prototype from the stage after its gearbox broke, sending the great man plummeting from contention for a podium place.
Portugal's Carlos Sousa in another VW is in fourth position ahead of a trio of BMWs driven by Middle East rally champion Nasser Al Attiyah of Qatar, Germany's Jutta Kleinschmidt and Spain's Jose-Luis Monterde. The UAE's Yahya Alhelei bounced back from problems on the previous day to take his Liberty Team Chevrolet Colorado into the top ten.
In the battle of the bikes, American rider Christopher Blais outpaced the best in the world on the day to win his first special stage in the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship.
Overall, Spain's Marc Coma extended his lead to just over seven minutes from Frenchman Cyril Despres, while David Casteu kept his grip on fifth place to leave himself just two days of solid concentration and no disasters away from the world title.
The day had begun with a three-hour delay, as daylight broke to reveal a layer of dense fog covering the Moreeb Hill bivouac. Alphand, who is as articulate as he was smooth on the slopes, made early errors. « We were trying harder today and made two mistakes early on with the navigation, » he said. « That enabled Stephane to get past. It was a lot of fun today and it's really very different to skiing. »
Schlesser completed the stage with the front of the buggy missing, and reported : « After 4kms we got stuck in a hole where we lost about ten minutes, but it could have been worse. The driving was good but we now go back to repair the front. »
Al Attiyah also had problems. « First we lost the way, » he said. « Navigating was difficult, and then we got stuck in a dune. On reversing out I lost part of the back of the car. It was a good training day, a good test, but too many dunes. »
Bikes leader Coma had what he called a “strange” day with numerous problems, including one with the rear break, while Despres was forced to ride without a working clutch and later on with a broken rear brake.
There were no problems for Blais who had a Stars and Stripes day, saying at the finish : « Finally I felt comfortable after the first two days which were difficult because it's a long time since I last rallied. Today it was really good on the bike, and it was my first stage win ever.