Al-Mutaiwei closes the gap on leader Schlesser in Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
Dubai's Khalifa Al-Mutaiwei and German co-driver Andreas Schulz guided their X-raid Mini All4 Racing to a second successive fastest stage time on the 2012 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge after a demanding split special stage on Wednesday.
Their success reduced overnight leader Jean-Louis Schlesser's overall lead to an unofficial 16m 40s with two stages remaining. Russian driver Ilya Kusnetsov set the third fastest time in an X-raid BMW X3 CC and Frenchman Patrick Sireyjol climbed to third in the overall standings in his SMG Buggy at the expense of the UAE's delayed Yayha Al-Helai.
"All is going well, very smooth and no punctures," said a delighted Al-Mutaiwei, who is competing in the event for the seventh time and survived three punctures on his way to the fastest time on Tuesday's stage. "We are continuing to close on Schlesser."
"Khalifa is driving very well," added co-driver Schulz. "If it was not for the first day delay we could be well in front now. The gap is closing and we have to attack. I have been so impressed with Khalifa and the way that he has been driving since his return to the sport. Maybe he has had a good teacher!"
Al-Mutaiwei began the third leg at Tharwaniyah as first car on the road – 24m 36s behind Schlesser in the overall standings - and that running order ‘disadvantage' failed to prevent the Emirati from reducing Schlesser's virtual overall lead by one minute at PC1.
But the Frenchman hit back to the second passage control and turned the deficit into a three-second advantage as the pair headed for the neutralisation section between the two parts of the day's 345km Qasr Al-Sarab loop stage.
Russia's Ilya Kusnetsov, Frenchman Patrick Sireyjol and Russian Vladimir Vasilyev kept up the pressure on the day's stage, the first section of which finished at the Qasr Al-Sarab resort and included passes through some of the towering UAE dunes.
The second 190km section of the leg (stage four) through the Ramlat Ar Rabbad desert began from the entrance to the hotel at the Arabian-style resort and Al-Mutaiwei continued his determined pursuit of Schlesser, a five-time winner of the event since 1994.
The Fazza Rally Team driver managed to extend his stage advantage over Schlesser to 10m 06s at the next PC and reduced the Frenchman's virtual overall lead to 14m 30s, as Sireyjol caught Schlesser at the control.
Al-Mutaiwei was pegged back from then on and reached the finish 7m 56s in front of Schlesser to record a second successive fastest stage time and continue to chisel away at the Frenchman's lead.
Tomorrow (Thursday) involves a punishing 317km desert loop stage around the Qasr Al-Sarab bivouac, with the fifth and final 287km special stage guiding teams back to the finish in Abu Dhabi at 16.30hrs on Friday.
Positions on leg three (unofficial @ 14.00hrs):
- Khalifa Al-Mutaiwei (UAE)/Andreas Schulz (DEU) Mini All4 Racing 5h 14m 23s
- Jean-Louis Schlesser (FRA)/Konstantin Zhilstov (RUS) Schlesser Buggy 5h 22m 19s
- Ilya Kusnetsov (RUS)/Roman Elagin (RUS) BMW X3 CC 5h 25m 22s
- Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS)/Vitaly Yevtyekhov (RUS) G-Force Proto 5h 30m 26s
- Patrick Sireyjol (FRA)/Francois-Xavier Beguin (FRA) SMG Buggy 5h 30m 57s
Overall positions after leg three (unofficial @ 14.00hrs):
- Jean-Louis Schlesser (FRA)/Konstantin Zhilstov (RUS) Schlesser Buggy 13h 54m 50s
- Khalifa Al-Mutaiwei (UAE)/Andreas Schulz (DEU) Mini All4 Racing 14h 11m 30s
- Patrick Sireyjol (FRA)/Francois-Xavier Beguin (FRA) SMG Buggy 15h 16m 38s, etc