ADDC 2023: Overdrive Racing's Al-Rajhi and Gottschalk seal maiden Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge victory
Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah crashes out of rally lead on third stage
Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi rekindled his partnership with German co-driver Timo Gottschalk and the pair were rewarded with a first ever victory on the gruelling six-day Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on Friday.
Al-Rajhi inherited the lead before the start of the penultimate stage through the remote deserts and towering sand dunes of the UAE’s Empty Quarter and the Toyota Hilux driver held his nerve to seal victory by the margin of 12min 31sec from the experienced Czech driver Martin Prokop.
The win catapulted the Saudi into contention for the Drivers’ Championship in the 2023 FIA World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC). The success was Overdrive Racing’s third on the event after wins for Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah in 2016 and 2021 and a first for Al-Rajhi in the W2RC.
Al-Rajhi said: “We did it well. We stayed clever. This race was not easy. A lot of good drivers have a crash. It has been difficult for me here before and I knew I had to be clever. Timo, myself and the team had a great plan and we won the race. That was the most important. The first time I win here in the Empty Quarter, dunes and dunes and more dunes. We are very happy. I am the first Saudi to win this race.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel dominated the event for four days, winning the Prologue and the opening three selective sections comfortably to carve out a lead of 27min 03sec, but the Qatari had crashed heavily in the dunes near the end of the third stage and badly damaged his Toyota. Not only were panels damaged and the windscreen missing, but the car had also sustained roll cage damage to the extent that it was not possible for the five-time Dakar winner to continue on safety grounds.
Al-Attiyah said: "The last part before the finish, I think 10km, it was a really fast section, no danger, nothing. Suddenly, ww find a small spit in the sand from the wind and it was in sixth gear and we crashed over three or four times. We land on the wheels and nothing was left on the car, everything was destroyed but we finish the stage. The FIA decided we could not continue because something was damaged on the roll cage.”
Argentinean Juan-Cruz Yacopini and Spaniard Daniel Oliveras crewed the third of four Toyotas run by Toyota and Overdrive Racing and reached the finish on the driver’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge debut in a fine fourth overall.
Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings were entered in a second Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux and overcame one disappointing day marred by technical issue and time penalties to set three third fastest stage times and the quickest time on the final day. The South Africans reached the finish in 28th overall.
This year’s edition of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge had been extensively modified, with the start and all pre-event formalities moved from Yas Marina to the ADNOC Energy Business Centre in Abu Dhabi.
From there, the entire event moved west along the coast to Al-Dhannah City for the ceremonial start and Prologue, before competitors tackled five revised selective sections in the Al-Dhafra (western region) of the UAE.
The Toyotas made a good start on the opening seven-kilometre Prologue stage and Al-Attiyah edged into a four-second lead over his main W2RC rival Sébastien Loeb. Al-Rajhi finished the stage in fourth, Lategan was seventh and Yacopini erred on the side of caution on his UAE debut to hold 27th.
The modified opening desert stage ran for 242km in the desert between Al-Dhannah City and Qasr Al-Sarab and included a series of dunes and tricky sandy tracks. It marked a perfect start for the Toyotas and Al-Attiyah began the day from 10th on the road and romped to the win over team-mate Al-Rajhi by 5min 54sec to extend his lead to 6min 05sec. With Loeb badly delayed by a cooling hose issue, the stage win meant that Al-Attiyah had already virtually regained the W2RC series lead on a stage where Lategan came home third to make it a Toyota 1-2-3 and Yacopini was fifth quickest.
Overdrive Racing’s managing director Jean-Marc Fortin said: “After day one, I am a little bit surprised to have three cars on the podium. Nasser did a very good stage, Yazeed was consistent and Henk had a little problem at the end with the power steering and lost four or five minutes. His time at the start was on a par with Nasser. It has been a strange start, a really good start. But we know this race is difficult and very demanding.”
The next 257km stage started to the north of Liwa and headed across valleys and tricky dune ranges, skirting the Shah oilfield and the isolated town of Hameem before heading back to Qasr Al-Sarab. Broken dunes were a constant hazard and a high sun with the lack of shadows made it even more difficult to see hidden dangers
Al-Attiyah continued to dominate proceedings and the Qatari cruised to another stage win after beating Loeb by 7min 47sec, although the Frenchman was later hit with a 50-hour time penalty for an engine change overnight and a 15-minute one for missing a waypoint. Al-Rajhi came home in third to consolidate second overall, albeit 18min 19sec behind Al-Attiyah, but Lategan suffered technical issues early in the special and returned to the bivouac to incur a fistful of time penalties.
Yacopini came home in ninth but was later handed time back after it came to light that he had stopped to assist British motorcycle rider David Mabbs, who had crashed after 229km.
The third stage looped through the desert and dunes near Qasr Al-Sarab and ran for 265.32km. Despite sustaining extensive damage to his Toyota and losing the windscreen in an accident 10km from the stage finish, Al-Attiyah beat Loeb by 48 seconds and extended his overall advantage over Al-Rajhi to 27min 03sec. Lategan completed the stage in third and Yacopini was classified in 17th but held sixth overall.
But Al-Attiyah’s roll cage was badly damaged in the accident and the team tried to no avail to ensure that it was safe to continue. With Al-Attiyah shock retirement in the Qasr Al-Sarab bivouac, Al-Rajhi inherited a lead of 9min 41sec over Czech driver and former event winner Martin Prokop. Yacopini climbed to fifth.
The fourth selective section should have been the longest of the event but foggy conditions dictated that it would be reduced to 173.27km and started two hours later than scheduled. New leader Al- Rajhi stayed clear of trouble to card the sixth quickest time and extend his advantage over Prokop to 10min 27sec. Yacopini maintained fifth and Lategan completed the day’s stage in third.
Al-Rajhi said: “Delayed because of the fog but we held our position. That was the most important. It was good weather and cloudy, not hot.”
Fog caused a 90-minute delay to the start of the final 206km selective section between Qasr Al-Sarab and Abu Dhabi as well. Al-Rajhi erred on the side of caution to protect his lead and confirmed a superb win with the seventh quickest time. Lategan earned the stage win and fifth place for Yacopini secured fourth in the overall standings.
Overdrive Racing now switches its attention to the Qatar International Baja, round two of the FIA World and Middle East Cups for Cross-Country Bajas, on March 15th-18th.
2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge – provisional results (15.31hrs CET):
1. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 16hr 28min 06sec
2. Martin Prokop (CZE)/Viktor Chytka (CZE) Ford Raptor RS Cross-Country 16hr 40min 37sec
3. Seth Quintero (USA)/Dennis Zenz (DEU) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 16hr 58min 31sec
4. Juan Cruz Yacopini (ARG)/Daniel Oliveras (ESP) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 17hr 01min 03sec
5. Sebastien Halpern (ARG)/Bernardo Graue (ARG) Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus 17hr 02min 35sec
6. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (ARE)/Ole Floene (NOR) Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus 17hr 17min 30sec*
7. Rokas Baciuška (LTU)/Oriol Vidal (ESP) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo (T4) 17hr 25min 47sec
8. Austin Jones (USA)/Gustavo Gugelmin (BRA) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 17hr 26min 16sec
9. Mansour Al-Helai (ARE)/Mohammed Al-Hamri (ARE) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo (T4) 17hr 37min 50sec*
10. Pau Navarro (ESP)/François Cazalet (FRA) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo (T4) 17hr 51min 47sec
11. Hernan Garces (CHL)/Juan Pablo Latrach (CHL) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 17hr 54min 59sec*
12. Wei Han (CHN)/Ma Li (CHN) SMG HW 2021 Buggy 18hr 09min 34sec
28. Henk Lategan (ZAF)/Brett Cummings (ZAF) Toyota GR DKR Hilux 38hr 14min 58sec*
* denotes not registered for W2RC
Source: Overdrive Racing