World Rally-Raid Championship

2024 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge: Al-Attiyah retakes the lead in Stage 4

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Credit: Kin Marcin/Red Bull Content Pool

Aaron Marè and Abdulaziz Ahli simply need to reach the finish without problems on Saturday to win the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in their respective categories. Everyone else, on the other hand, will have to bring their A-game.

Marè and Ahli respectively top the RallyGP and Quad with comfortable advantages after Stage #4, the former ahead of Ross Branch by nearly forty-eight minutes while the latter leads Hani Al-Noumesi by an insurmountable eight hours. Branch, the first bike out on Friday, took a wrong turn just past KM 103 and ended up on local farmland; Marè, Konrad Dąbrowski, and Jean-Loup Lepan followed him off course before they worked together to rejoin the route. Once back on track, Marè took the lead following the refuel area at KM 117 and rode off to win by seven-and-a-half minutes. In order to erase the 47:55 gap separating them, Branch would both need to finish ahead of Marè and hope he has some sort of trouble, the latter of course not the most sportsman thing to pray for, especially a team-mate.

“Today I took it pretty safe, just trying to manage the race and the bike, so I could maintain the overall lead,” said Marè. “I’m happy with how things turned out today, and things look good for tomorrow. I have to open the route tomorrow, so I’m looking forward to doing that again. Ross did a really great job today opening the stage and navigating the route; watching him in the stages has been a great learning experience for me.”

On the Quad side, Ahli virtually has his fourth consecutive ADDC title secured, having won every stage while Al-Noumesi and Kamil Wiśniewski fell behind with mechanical issues. Wiśniewski, the Prologue winner, was knocked out of the race entirely on Thursday, leaving Al-Noumesi as Ahli’s only competition left.

While those two races are virtually wrapped up, things have only gotten closer in Rally2 and all three FIA categories.

After their brief excursion with Branch, Dąbrowski and Lepan resumed their battle. Lepan won the stage by three minutes, but still has a lot of ground to make up in the Rally2 overall as Dąbrowski still has a twelve-minute advantage.

Branch’s misadventure had ramifications for Ultimate leader Seth Quintero, who followed the bike path off track and was relegated to a fourth-place stage finish. Nasser Al-Attiyah, who lost the lead after Quintero won Stage #3, made the same error but quickly recovered to beat him by 10:31 and regain the top spot. 9:21 separates the two, while defending winner Yazeed Al-Rajhi has an outside shot as he trails by twelve minutes.

Austin Jones recorded his third Challenger stage win, but his Can-Am team-mate Rokas Baciuška refuses to keel over and surrender as he placed second yet again. Baciuška has finished runner-up in all four stages, allowing him to keep within seven minutes of Jones in the overall.

Just one minute and twenty-two seconds divide Mansour Al-Helei and Yasir Seaidan in SSV. Seaidan had led by a mere eighteen seconds entering Friday’s leg, only for Al-Helei to clear him by 1:40 to regain the lead. With Sebastián Guayasamín twenty-nine minutes back, Seaidan only needs to worry about passing Al-Helei.

Martin Prokop enjoyed a podium when he finished third, rebounding after getting knocked out by crashes on Thursday. On the other hand, Stage #2 winner Guerlain Chicherit withdrew from the race after his co-driver Alex Winocq reported back pain following a hard landing; his team-mate Guillaume de Mévius had retired the same day as Chicherit’s victory for the same reason.

Nerimantas Jucius enjoyed an impressive run as he sat third in Rally2 for much of the day before crashing at KM 180, resulting in rib bruising and a cut lip. His classmate Oran O’Kelly, seventh in the category prior to the stage, suffered a gearbox failure that dropped him to twentieth and out of contention for a top ten.

Stage #4 winners

Ultimate206Nasser Al-AttiyahNasser Racing3:12:21
Challenger304Austin JonesCan-Am Factory Team3:27:19
SSV411Mansour Al-Helei*R-X Sport3:32:07
RallyGP44Aaron MarèHero MotoSports3:21:41
Rally276Jean-Loup LepanDUUST Rally Team3:23:45
Quad174Abdulaziz AhliAbu Dhabi Team4:26:41
* – Not competing in World Rally-Raid Championship

Leaders after Stage #4

Ultimate206Nasser Al-AttiyahNasser Racing13:57:32
Challenger304Austin JonesCan-Am Factory Team14:30:43
SSV411Mansour Al-Helei*R-X Sport15:03:12
RallyGP44Aaron MarèHero MotoSports13:55:15
Rally226Konrad DąbrowskiDUUST Rally Team14:05:29
Quad174Abdulaziz AhliAbu Dhabi Team17:08:59
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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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