Despres and De Villiers lead in the UAE

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

For immediate release
Tuesday, October 21st, 2003


Masuoka rolls near the start; Intense heat and sand dunes take their toll

LIWA (UAE): Frenchman Cyril Despres and South Africa's Giniel de Villiers won the opening desert section of the UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge, as teams tackled a 318.95 kms section across the Monassir Plateau to the overnight halt at Liwa.

After the ceremonial start at the Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi, where cars were flagged away by Sheikh Zayed bin Hamdan bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Japanese amateur rider Mitsur Koizumi led the international entry into the relatively straightforward opening section.

But he was soon overtaken on the stage by the professional riders, including both Frenchman Cyril Despres and Spaniard Joan Roma, two of the FIM Cross Country world title contenders who started from the back of the field this morning. Despres now has an early lead in the FIM section after winning the stage.

~My plan of starting from the back is working,~ said the defending champion. ~It was not a problem passing the other riders. It feels strange when you are ahead of the field and you see no-one. I want to win this race and I am full of confidence,~

~I was a little worried about the temperature of my motor when the gauge started flashing,~ said FIM championship contender Marek Dabrowski, who was first across the stage finish line today and is third overall. ~I slowed down for a while to see if everything was okay.~

In the four-wheel category, South Africa's Giniel de Villiers had set the pace on the Palm Prologue stage and he continued his run of form, despite a slight overheating problem. Belgian Gregoire de Mevius was second overall in a Team X-Raid X5 and former World Rally Champion Miki Biasion was third in a Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution, despite losing around six minutes in soft sand. French team mate Stephane Peterhansel was fourth.

In the battle for the FIA World Drivers' Championship, Portugal's Carlos Sousa held the upper hand over Frenchman's Jean-Louis Schlesser. He finished the stage 12 minutes ahead of the defending World Champion in fifth position.

Mitsubishi's Hiroshi Masuoka was the first notable retirement from the rally, when he rolled his Pajero Evolution 22 kms into the stage. Neither crew member was injured, but the car was too badly damaged for this year's Dakar Rally winner to continue. It will now be repaired in preparation for next year's African classic.

Frenchman Luc Alphand, the winner of Baja races in Germany and Spain this year, lost over 70 minutes with a mechanical problem in his BMW X5, 80 kms into the stage. He restarted and stopped further into the stage.

The UAE's Khalifa Al-Motaiwi was also in trouble. ~We came over a sand dune and saw a bike stopped,~ said Al-Motaiwi. ~I braked hard to miss the bike and we stalled the engine. It took 30 minutes to get going again.~

Tomorrow's (Wednesday) second desert section will start at 06.30 on the asphalt road to the Mureeb Hill Climb in Liwa. Passage controls have been set up on the Arada Border road and where the route crosses the Hameem to Mizaira track at Tharwaniyah. Early morning fog has been prevalent in recent years and the organisers have a contingency plan in place to overcome such an eventuality.

The service point will be situated at an underpass on the Madinah Zayed road before teams reach the finish of the 388 kms competitive section on the Arada gatch track. A road liaison takes teams into the second night at the Mizai'ra base camp.

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 Leg 1 - Bikes (unofficial)
1. Cyril Despres (F) KTM 660 Rally 3h 13m 33s
2. Alfie Cox (ZA) KTM 3h 18m 44s
3. Marek Dabrowski (PL) KTM 660 Rally 3h 20m 52s
4. Andy Caldecott (AUS) KTM 660 Rally 3h 24m 37s
5. Jacek Czachor (PL) KTM 660 Rally 3h 27m 03s
6. Pal-Anders Ullesvalseter (N) KTM Rally 3h 29m 21s
7. Francois Flick (F) KTM Replica 3h 29m 44s
8. Joan Roma (E) KTM Rally 3h 29m 57s

Positions after Leg 1 - Cars (unofficial)
1. Giniel de Villiers (ZA)/Francois Jordaan (ZA) Nissan Pick-Up 2h 48m 34s
2. Gregoire de Mevius (B)/Arnaud Debron (F)BMW 2h 49m 05s
3. Miki Biasion (I)/Tiziano Siviero (I) Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution 2h 50m 34s
4. Stephane Peterhansel (F)/Jean-Paul Cottret (F) Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution 2h 51m 51s
5. Carlos Sousa (P)/Henri Magne (AND) Mitsubishi L200 Strakar 2h 54m 47s
6. Ari Vatanen (SF)/Juha Repo (SF) Nissan Pick-Up 2h 54m 48s
7. Khalifa Al-Motaiwi (UAE)/Philip Tiefenbach (D) BMW X5 3h 07m 21s
8. Jean-Louis Schlesser (F)/Jean-Marie Lurquin (F) Schlesser-Ford 3h 07m 28s
9. Yayha Alhili (UAE)/Khaled Al-Kendi (UAE) Chevrolet Tahoe 3h 14m 28s
10. Andrea Mayer (D)/Andreas Schulz (D) Mitsubishi Pajero 3h 15m 38s


For further media information:
Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, UAE Marlboro Desert Challenge press officer
Dubai International Marine Club press office, Dubai, UAE, Tel: + (9714) 3994673, Fax: + (9714) 3994149
or Liwa bivouac press office, Tel: + (9712) 8822293, Fax: + (9712) 8822819.
E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com
www.ndp-publicity.com/press releases

www.uaedesertchallenge.com (currently out of action because of interval server error)

Date issued: 21/10/2003

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