World Rally-Raid Championship

2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge: Al-Attiyah, Quintanilla lead Prologue

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Credit: Kin Marcin/Red Bull Content Pool

Nasser Al-Attiyah might have won the 2023 Dakar Rally by over an hour, but Sébastien Loeb left the opener with the World Rally-Raid Championship T1 lead thanks to his stage wins. Nevertheless, Al-Attiyah quickly made his desire to leapfrog him known by being the fastest four-wheeler in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge‘s Prologue stage ahead of Loeb and his fellow Prodrive Hunter Guerlain Chicherit.

Al-Attiyah dusted the seven-kilometre Prologue, intended as a “warmup” leg ahead of the five-day main rally, in four minutes and forty-five seconds. Chicherit was four seconds back with Loeb third and ten seconds behind the leader.

“Difficult to optimise everything because we were opening that stage and there were the lines from the motorbikes but it was really soft sand to almost bog us down,” said Loeb, who celebrated his forty-ninth birthday on Sunday. “Maybe I could cut a bit more across some corners but I think some of the cars following did this even more. For such a short stage it was all good though. No problem at all before we really start this rally tomorrow.”

Red Bull also continued to establish themselves as the best programme in T3 as Seth Quintero led a podium sweep. Quintero edged out his Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team partner Mitch Guthrie by less than a second with Cristina Gutiérrez just a second off; Yamaha’s João Ferreira was the top non-Red Bull in fourth.

Gutiérrez, who placed tenth overall, will be the first FIA entry to begin Stage #1 on Monday. The top ten finishers in the Prologue were permitted to select (in reverse order, meaning Gutiérrez picked first) when they begin the first leg, with Al-Attiyah set to go in tenth.

In T4, another Red Bull driver Rokas Baciuška did not have to worry about Dakar winner Eryk Goczał as the teenager was in France before heading off to university, which basically gave him free rein over the class as he topped the Prologue. Pau Navarro, one of four W2RC-eligible drivers in the class, finished third with Mansour Al-Helei in second.

While the Hunters fell just shy of beginning the ADDC with a 1–2, Monster Energy Honda Rally Team achieved it on two wheels as Pablo Quintanilla and Adrien Van Beveren led the way. Their team-mate Ricky Brabec, having recovered from his broken vertebrae in Dakar, was sixth. Sandwiched between the Hondas were a pair of KTMs in Toby Price and Mason Klein plus Ross Branch on his Hero.

“It was a short one but a very technical track,” Quintanilla commented. “The feeling was good. We started from behind and there were a lot of lines in the curves. Sometimes it was quite tricky to go, but I managed to do a good Prologue. Now I have a good position for tomorrow so we will keep pushing to keep our lead.”

Tobias Ebster, who is not racing for W2RC points, was the highest running Rally2 bike in ninth and twenty-two seconds off Quintanilla. Among those eligible for points, Toni Mulec was twelfth overall with Konrad Dąbrowski a spot back, the latter running his first rally of 2023 after appendicitis sidelined him for Dakar.

Abdulaziz Ahli, back-to-back reigning winner of the ADDC on Quads, recorded the largest margin of victory of the Prologue as he beat Rodolfo Guillioli by twenty-eight seconds.

Attrition was not a concern due to the Prologue’s short length, but that did not mean there weren’t some who experienced trouble. Tim Marklund, snowmobile champion making his début in an international rally raid, suffered a broken suspension just 200 metres into the Prologue and placed sixteenth in T4. Fellow Swede Mattias Ekström, competing in T3 for the first time after racing a T1 at Dakar, inadvertently ran the stage with his Can-Am in 2×4 mode instead of 4×4 and finished eighth in class; he joked it was “Sandbagging 3.0”. Ionuț “Jon” Florea, a W2RC newcomer competing in Rally2, began the stage with little fuel due to “some logistical difficulties” which forced him to stop three times to conserve gas before coasting back to the bivuoac with help from team-mate Andrei Danila.

Prologue winners

T1201Nasser Al-AttiyahToyota Gazoo Racing4:45
T3302Seth QuinteroRed Bull Off-Road Junior Team5:14
T4400Rokas BaciuškaRed Bull Can-Am Factory Team5:19
RallyGP7Pablo QuintanillaMonster Energy Honda Rally Team5:00
Rally296Tobias Ebster*SRG Motorsports5:22
Quad174Abdulaziz AhliAbu Dhabi Team5:57
* – Not competing in World Rally-Raid Championship
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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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