Sam Sunderland wins Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

2019 Cross-Country Rallies World Championship

Round One – Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

Sam Sunderland secured his second Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge victory by implementing a 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.

Sam Sunderland – P1

“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.”

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Sam Sunderland
Sam Sunderland

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 – P2

“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.”

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Luciano Benavides
Luciano Benavides

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.”

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Sam Sunderland Luciano Benavides
Sam Sunderland and Luciano Benavides with the KTM Factory Rally Team

Chilean Monster Energy Honda Team rider José Ignacio Cornejo took his forst World Championship podium. Besides winning two stages of the rally, Cornejo also made it onto the podium in second place in the junior category.

José Ignacio Cornejo – P3

“Today was a difficult day, opening the track; I am happy. I opened the track from beginning to end although unfortunately they took back a lot of time from me and I ended up in third position in the general. I am equally happy to get my first podium in the world championship, to go home after having won two stages and having opened the track during two more stages. Certainly this experience will be positive for my future. We are on the right track. I’m happy with my riding, and I’m picking up more and more pace. I want to thank the Monster Energy Honda Team for all the hard work these days, as well as my coach and my family who are at home supporting me. Thank you very much to all.”

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge José Ignacio Cornejo
José Ignacio Cornejo

Monster Energy Honda Team brother-in-arms, Argentine Kevin Benavides, finished behind Cornejo in fourth place. For the rider from Salta it was a triumph of sorts, to be able to finish the race in the top five, while burdened with a recent shoulder dislocation and a fractured rib.

Kevin Benavides – P4

“I’m happy to finish because the goal was to reach the end. It was a very hard week physically. It was not easy to ride with a dislocated shoulder and a broken rib. I was at 50%, but I gave 100% of that 50, and it’s very good to be able to finish with a fourth place. Every sacrifice has its reward and we must bear in mind that this championship is very long and we hope it will have a good ending.”

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Benavides
Kevin Benavides

Andrew Short overcame several challenges to secure a well-deserved top-five result. Unfortunately, Short lost some time to his rivals with a small technical issue on the final day, which he stopped and repaired, before completing the final stage in tenth to claim fifth overall.

Andrew Short – P5

“This last day has been good for me, I felt really good all day and had a good pace. Just near the end I had a small issue but I was able to quickly get going again and complete the stage. Overall, I have really enjoyed the race here in Abu Dhabi, it’s been a great experience and fun to be here with the crew. I feel my riding has improved here, each rally I do it feels like I move up another level and it’s very important to keep that momentum going. Real race experience is so valuable and it’s good to leave here healthy and even faster. Admittedly, it’s not quite the result I was hoping for but we had to play the cards we were dealt and I think we handled it perfectly. I’m now really looking forward to the next race.”

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Andrew Short
Andrew Short

Spaniard Joan Barreda, who two weeks prior to leaving for Abu Dhabi broke three ribs and dislocated the left clavicle. In addition, on the second day, his right leg was pierced by the motorcycle’s foot-rest. Despite the woes, Barreda decided to battle on in the race, and after placing second in two stages, finished in third spot on the final day. The rider from Castellón had been sanctioned with a heavy penalty after being unable to conclude the first stage with a mechanical issue.

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Joan Barreda
Joan Barreda

2019 Cross-Country Rallies World Championship

The next major rally event is the second round of the 2019 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, the Silk Way Rally starting in Russia on July 6.

2019 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

  1. SUNDERLAND Sam GBR Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team 17:46’42
  2. BENAVIDES Luciano ARG KTM Factory Racing Team +8’20
  3. CORNEJO José Ignacio CHI Monster Energy Honda Team +9’59
  4. BENAVIDES Kevin ARG Monster Energy Honda Team +34’51
  5. SHORT Andrew USA Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing +1:01’40
  6. BLAIR Ryan GBR SRG Motorsports +1:36’51
  7. MESHARI JAFFAR Mohammed KWT Team Jaffar +1:37’06
  8. ACKERMAN Mark RSA SRG Motorsports +1:44’31
  9. AL BALOOSHI Mohammed UAE Balooshi Racing KTM UAE +1:45’54
  10. MARE Aaron RSA Vendetta Racing UAE +23:27’08


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