The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge has been an outstanding event for Sam Sunderland. Working closely with his team, the British rider secured his second victory at the race by implementing the perfect strategy over the course of the five-day event. Leading the overall standings by a narrow 18 seconds over the second-placed rider coming into today’s final stage, Sam knew he would have to push right from the start to guarantee a win.
The timed special consisted of the large iconic sand dunes of the Liwa Desert, in the first half of the stage, before flattening out into faster pistes as the route neared the city of Abu Dhabi. Successfully maintaining a strong pace over the first 100 kilometres, Sunderland caught and passed a number of riders ahead of him and made up valuable minutes on his nearest rivals. Arriving at the finish, Sam won the stage by an impressive three-minutes-and-26-seconds from his teammate Benavides and in turn claimed the rally victory by over eight minutes.
Sam Sunderland:“Things went perfectly today. We knew coming into today’s final stage that we would have to stick to our planned strategy. The stage brought us closer to Abu Dhabi and as such, the tracks towards the end were a lot faster away from the dunes. I knew I would have to push really hard right from the start of the special. I arrived at the refuelling and the team let me know everything was good, so from there it was just a case of bringing it home safely to the finish. I’m really happy with the job done by the team all week and myself in the way I rode. It’s great to get my 2019 championship off to the perfect start with a win.”
With both his speed and confidence improving, Luciano Benavides topped his already superb event performance with a runner-up finish on the final rally stage. Coming into day five with over four minutes to make up on the then second-placed rider, the 23-year-old Argentinian knew he would have to ride the perfect special to secure the overall second place behind his teammate. Feeling good on the bike and pushing hard right from the flag, Benavides not only made up the minutes required but claimed the overall runner-up position with an advantage of close to two minutes. The result marks Benavides’ maiden podium in an FIM Cross-Country Rallies event.
Luciano Benavides:“It’s been an incredible day for me. I knew I had to push a lot to make up the difference to the guys in front, gain some minutes and take second place. I tried my best to go fast, but stay on the bike and not go too crazy. The bike was feeling super-good so I decided to attack and it worked out, I got second place and the team got the first two places. I am really happy and now it’s time to celebrate.”
Jordi Villadoms (KTM Rally Team Manager):“As a team we couldn’t have asked for anything more. To see our riders finish first and second at the first round of the Rallies World Championship is fantastic, and very well-deserved. We know well that Sam is very fast here in the dunes, and he certainly showed that the last few days. He really managed the race very well and finished with a good gap to the second-placed rider. Luciano also did a brilliant job here in Abu Dhabi. He showed already in Dakar that he is improving a lot and here our junior rider finished second overall. We are very happy for him. It’s been a great team effort here, with all of the staff giving 100% to support our riders, like they do every race. Now we have some months to be ready for the Silk Way Rally, which will be a new challenge for all of us and one we are looking forward to.”
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s next rally event will be the second round of the 2019 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, the Silk Way Rally starting in Russia on July 6.
Provisional Results Stage Five – 2019 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
1. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 2:39:59
2. Luciano Benavides (ARG), KTM, 2:43:25 +3:26
3. Joan Barreda (ESP), Honda, 2:46:42 +6:43
4. Jose Ignacio Cornejo (CHL), Honda, 2:49:40 +9:41
5. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 2:53:34 +13:35
Provisional Overall Results – 2019 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
1. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 17:46:42
2. Luciano Benavides (ARG), KTM, 17:55:02 +8:20
3. Jose Ignacio Cornejo (CHL), Honda, 17:56:41 +9:59
4. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 18:21:33 +34:51
5. Andrew Short (USA), Husqvarna, 18:48:22 +1:01:40