World Rally-Raid Championship

2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge: Trouble strikes leaders in Stage 3

3 Mins read
Credit: Kin Marcin/Red Bull Content Pool

Nasser Al-Attiyah has dominated the World Rally-Raid Championship since its beginning, winning both editions of the Dakar Rally under its sanction and the inaugural T1 title, to the point where something was bound to go wrong for him eventually.

That upending moment occurred on Wednesday, metaphorically and literally, when he was ten kilometres away from winning the third stage of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge only to flip his Toyota Hilux T1+ three times upon hitting a dune and overshooting the landing. Despite ending up on his wheels and reaching the finish in first, the truck’s rear, roof, and windscreen were torn apart in the accident. Neither Al-Attiyah nor his co-driver Mathieu Baumel were injured, but the FIA ruled the Hilux’s rollcage was too damaged to continue.

Al-Attiyah has long been a model of consistency in the face of rally raid’s treacherous nature. His last retirement from an FIA-sanctioned international rally raid, which includes the current W2RC and its preceding World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, prior to Abu Dhabi was the 2014 Baja España Aragón. By exiting the ADDC entirely, Al-Attiyah also loses the fifteen points he earned from winning the Prologue and first two legs, allowing Sébastien Loeb to retain the W2RC T1 championship lead despite also being out of overall rally contention following his Stage #1 bowing out and fifty-hour time penalty for a subsequent engine change.

“This was a very disappointing day for us,” said Al-Attiyah. “We were in control of the race, as well as the stage, and felt secure in another stage win, but then we made a small mistake near the end of the stage which caused our GR DKR Hilux T1+ to roll over violently. I’m so grateful to the team for building a strong car, which protected Mathieu and myself in the crash. Even more amazing was that the car started after the impacts, and we managed to drive it to the finish of the stage. In the end, the FIA ruled that our car was unsafe to continue given the damage, and we have no choice but to retire.”

With Al-Attiyah’s elimination, fellow Hilux driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi will inherit the ADDC T1 overall lead for Stage #4 with a nine-minute, forty-one-second advantage over Martin Prokop. Loeb, who finished second in the stage, will try to gain more points in the championship with strong performances over the next two days as stage points are awarded for the top five in each leg.

Misfortune also struck frontrunners elsewhere, such Stage #3 T3 winner Mattias Ekström whose engine expired after sixty-six kilometres. Ekström had been leading early into Wednesday until the motor gave way, which the Red Bulls capitalised upon as Mitch Guthrie led Cristina Gutiérrez and Seth Quintero; the trio has swept the T3 podium in every leg but the third.

Even two-wheeled vehicles—on the second stage under marathon conditions—were not safe from trouble as Pablo Quintanilla lost the RallyGP stage win to Toby Price after receiving a two-minute speeding penalty, dropping him behind Price by just sixteen seconds with Skyler Howes three seconds off of Quintanilla. The infraction also enabled Adrien Van Beveren to stay ahead of his Honda team-mate for the overall by forty-three seconds.

“Didn’t expect that today with the pace but I’ll take it,” said Price. “I never really look at overall results until the last day but I think we are sitting well, we’ll see what the last two days in Abu Dhabi bring.”

Stage #3 winners

T1201Nasser Al-AttiyahToyota Gazoo Racing3:51:45
T3303Mitch GuthrieRed Bull Off-Road Junior Team4:06:33
T4400Rokas BaciuškaRed Bull Can-Am Factory Racing4:08:58
RallyGP8Toby PriceRed Bull KTM Factory Racing3:43:29
Rally246Paolo LucciBAS World KTM Racing Team3:51:22
Quad174Abdulaziz AhliAbu Dhabi Team4:48:57

Leaders after Stage #3

T1201Nasser Al-AttiyahToyota Gazoo Racing10:39:00
T3302Seth QuinteroRed Bull Off-Road Junior Team11:32:57
T4400Rokas BaciuškaRed Bull Can-Am Factory Racing11:50:47
RallyGP42Adrien Van BeverenMonster Energy Honda Rally Team10:55:02
Rally246Paolo LucciBAS World KTM Racing Team11:30:47
Quad174Abdulaziz AhliAbu Dhabi Team13:52:30
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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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