Koizumi and De Villiers win Prologue stage

UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge
2003 FIA and FIM World Cups, final round

For immediate release
Monday, October 20th, 2003


Roma and Despres play cat and mouse;
Bumper crowd witnesses new Palm Prologue stage

DUBAI (UAE): The 13th UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge got underway this afternoon (Monday) with a timed Prologue stage on the exciting new Palm Island development off the coast of Jumeira, Dubai.

The purpose-built spectacle was attended by a massive crowd of spectators, who witnessed unknown Japanese rider Mitsuru Koizumi and South Africa's Giniel de Villiers draw first blood in their respective FIM and FIA classes. They now have the option to start the opening cross-country stage first on the road on Tuesday morning.

Czech rider Marek Podlipny finished second overall in the Bikes category on his Yamaha 660 and Giovanni Martelozzo completed the top three on a Yamaha, as the leading FIM contenders deliberately held back to avoid the risk of opening the first desert stage.

FIM World Championship contenders Joan Roma and Cyril Despres will start from the rear of the motorcycle field, after they both stopped near the end of the section for three minutes to avoid running in front on Tuesday's section. Roma jokingly complained of engine maladies and Despres of a gearbox problem, but it was plainly a tactical decision by both riders, as they dropped over three minutes to the leaders.

~It is nice to get the Prologue under our belt,~ said tactician Despres. ~It's good entertainment for the spectators, but we all know that the real rally starts in the desert. It was very humid on the stage, but there was no advantage to be gained by winning the section today.~

In the four-wheel section, Nissan-mounted De Villiers and co-driver Francois Jordaan finished ahead of second-placed Italians Miki Biasion and Tiziano Siviero in their Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution, with Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka and French co-driver Gilles Picard third overall. Belgian Gregoire de Mevius, Finland's Ari Vatanen and France's Stephane Peterhansel completed the top six.

~As a team we have come on leaps and bounds this year with the new Nissan,~ said Vatanen, the four-times winner of the Dakar Rally. ~We had a good test session in Morocco last month and the whole team worked hard with revisions to the car. The Prologue is fun for the spectators, but we all know that the real rally starts in the deserts. For me it is great to be back in Dubai. I won here in 1997 and would love to win here again this week.~

Several drivers have been regular visitors to the UAE. Australia's Bruce Garland first came here in 1997 and is tackling his fourth UAE Desert Challenge. ~With the quality of the entry a top 10 position would be a great result,~ said the Isuzu driver. ~A top five? That's what dreams and legends are made of!~

The UAE's Saeed Al-Hameli was the highest-placed local finisher last year, but realises that he faces much tougher competition this time. ~I hope that everyone has a safe rally and there is a good competition,~ said Al-Hameli. ~The sand could be hot and that makes it very difficult in the dunes.~

Today's special stage, which took place in intense humidity and searing heat, was shown in a two-hour LBC live broadcast and entrants were flagged away from the start by Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the chairman of the event's organising committee.

The real meat of the action begins on Tuesday morning. The official start will be at the Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi at 09.30 where motorcycles lead the international entry from a staggering 28 countries into the first 318 kms special stage across the Monassir Plateau. Competitors are taking part from as far afield as the United States, Australia, Japan, South Africa, Russia, many areas of Europe and several Middle Eastern countries.

~We made several changes to the format of the rally this year,~ said Ben Sulayem. ~The move to the DIMC has been greeted from all quarters and the Prologue stage has attracted a lot of media attention. Our team have worked hard to get the stage ready in time and it was pleasing to see so many people turn up to watch the action.~

The competitive section will start on the Hameem Road and a service point will be located at the Arjan Mast - the former bivouac point for the UAE Desert Challenge before the event moved to Liwa for the first time in 2001. The stage finishes further down the Hameem Road and a road section will take teams into the overnight halt at Mizai'ra, below the Liwa Hotel.

This year's UAE Desert Challenge is being held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Minister of Defence.

Positions after Prologue stage - Bikes (unofficial - top 6)
1. Mitsuru Koizumi (J) KTM 640 Adventure 2m 34s
2. Marek Podlipny (CZ) Yamaha 660 2m 47s
3. Giovanni Martelozzo (I) Yamaha WR450 2m 49s
4. Fabio Benetti (I) KTM 660 Rally 2m 50s
5. Francois Berland (F) Yamaha Raptor 660 2m 50s
6. Issam Abu Jaoude (RL) Yamaha Raptor 660 2m 51s

Positions after Prologue stage - Cars (unofficial)
1. Giniel de Villiers (ZA)/Francois Jordaan (ZA) Nissan Pick-Up 2m 44s
2. Miki Biasion (I)/Tiziano Siviero (I) Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution 2m 48s
3. Hiroshi Masuoka (J)/Gilles Picard (F) Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution 2m 49s
4. Gregoire de Mevius (B)/Alain Guehennec (F) BMW X5 2m 50s
5. Ari Vatanen (SF)/Juha Repo (SF) Nissan Pick-Up 2m 50s
6. Stephane Peterhansel (F)/Jean-Paul Cottret (F) Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution 2m 50s
7. Carlos Sousa (P)/Henri Magne (AND) Mitsubishi L200 Strakar 2m 51s


For further media information:
Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge press office, Dubai International Marine Club, Dubai, UAE, Tel: + (9714) 3994673, Fax: + (9714) 3994149, Mob: + (+ 97150) 5594369
E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com
www.ndp-publicity.com/press releases

Date issued: 20/10/2003

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