Rallye

Luciano Benavides Wins 2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Stage Two

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Photo of Luciano Benavides at the 2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
Luciano Benavides moved up to third on the overall rankings after winning stage two.

Luciano Benavides has won the tough stage two at the 2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge ahead of Jose Ignacio Cornejo and Skyler Howes.

In the overall standings, Adrien Van Beveren has taken the overall lead courtesy of a fifth place on today’s stage while stage one winner Pablo Quintanilla sits second. Benavides’ stage win elevates the Argentinian to third while Australian Toby Price has dropped to sixth after signing off on today’s stage in eighth

Marking the first leg of the event’s marathon stage, stage two of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge saw competitors cover 365 kilometres through the Liwa desert, 257 of which were timed special raced against the clock. Luciano Benavides dominated the results today, moving into the lead on time from around kilometre 50 before increasing that advantage all the way to the finish.

Despite not collecting any bonus time for partly opening the stage from his eighth-place start position, Benavides topped the day’s timesheets by well over one minute. The 27-year-old will be tasked with opening day three of the event, the 303-kilometre second leg of the marathon stage.

“It was a really nice day today,” Benavides said. “The dunes were slower, more technical – but that’s how I prefer it. The day was tiring with the terrain proving to be really physical, especially as I was pushing hard from start to finish. It all paid off though and I was able to take my first stage win of this year’s race. My rhythm was good today and my confidence is high. Tomorrow, I’m opening the stage, so hopefully I can do a good job without losing too much time to the guys behind. I’ll get some rest now and give my all again tomorrow.”

Photo of Jose Ignacio Cornejo at the 2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
Ignacio Cornejo was runnerup on stage two and sits fourth in the overall rankings. Photo: RallyZone

José Ignacio Cornejo was the fastest among the Honda team, with a second place with a gap of one minute and 17 seconds to winner Benavides.

“It was a good stage today with another solid ride,” Cornejo reflected. “I did my best to reach all the guys in front, that was not easy but I was able to make it. So I had a good day, felt good on the bike and I am happy with the results. I also have a good position for tomorrow and will fight for the bonus and keep battling until the end. ”

Photo of Skyler Howes at the 2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
Skyler Howes suffered a small fuel leak early on and as a result, had to ride a calculated stage to third. Photo: RallyZone

Putting in a strong performance, despite a small technical issue that plagued him throughout, Skyler Howes placed third and now lies eighth overall, less than six minutes from the leader. Suffering a small fuel leak early on in the special, Howes initially continued to battle through the stage, but in the final few kilometres, the American had to ease his pace or risk running out of fuel. Using the 30 minutes allotted to him at the end of the day, Skyler was able to apply a more permanent repair, which he hopes will last the day’s racing tomorrow.

“It’s been a slightly stressful stage for me today. My pace out there was really good, especially in the first half of the special,” Howes said. “When I came into the refuelling, I found I had a small leak and after investigating, it turned out that just a single rubber seal had torn slightly. It continued to leak for the rest of the stage, and because I was going to be tight on fuel towards the end, I did have to ease back a little, short shifting and trying to conserve as much gas as I could. At the end of the stage, we only had 30 minutes to work on our bikes, but thanks to the help from my teammate, I think we got the problem sorted. So, fingers crossed it holds for tomorrow as we have a long way to go.”

Photo of Adrien Van Beveren at the 2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
Fifth on stage two, Frenchman Adrien Van Beveren now assumes the overall lead going into stage three. Photo: RallyZone

New overall leader Adrien Van Beveren rode with teammate Pablo Quintanilla for most of the stage and will now focus on opening stage 3 tomorrow.

“Today was a good day overall, really tough,” Van Beveren said. “I was able to reach Pablo at around kilometer 57 and then we rode together pushing the best we could going fast and opening the stage. It was a long way with a lot of sand dunes, broken dunes, and not always easy to find the way with some surprises on the other side. I did my best and I am happy about that, considering that we were opening the stage. Now I will keep the focus for tomorrow, looking forward to getting back on the sand tracks. ”

Toby Price completed the stage in eighth place, four minutes down on the eventual winner, Price now lies sixth overall. However, with just four minutes separating those top six in the provisional overall rally standings, and with Price looking forward to his later start position into Wednesday’s 303-kilometer stage three, the Aussie is fully focused on making up that time to the race leaders.

“Stage two has been good, but just like yesterday, I’m struggling to read the terrain a little and find a good rhythm,” Price explained. “The dunes were very similar to stage one, with some having big drops on the far side and others just rolling nicely. It seems every time I try and get my head down and attack, I find one of the dunes with a huge drop and it knocks my confidence a bit. My pace is still good and I’m well in the race, I just need to stay focused and keep it up. Physically I feel great and on this first half of the marathon stage, the bike has been perfect. So all good to go ahead of tomorrow.”

Tomorrow’s Stage 3 will keep the same competitive scheme, with another tour around Qasr Al Sarab and many dunes and sand to race in the depths of the Empty Quarter. The special stage will be 266 kilometers long – added by a liaison of 37 km. This is a very demanding challenge for all riders, since they are racing in marathon mode – meaning they can’t count on assistance and backup from the teams.

Photo of Toby Price at the 2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
Toby Price is hoping to make up time on stage three when he has a later starting position. With the top six all-around 4 minutes apart the Australian feels he can get back in the race. Photo: RallyZone

Provisional Results – Stage 2 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge 2023
1 Luciano Benavides (ARG), Husqvarna, 3:24:50
2 Ignacio Cornejo (CHI), Honda, 3:26:07 +1:17
3 Skyler Howes (USA), Husqvarna, 3:26:34 +1:44
4 Ricky Brabec (USA), Honda, 3:27:08 +2:18
5 Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Honda, 3:27:59 +3:09
6 Mason Klein (USA), KTM, 3:28:11 +3:21
8 Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 3:28:57 +4:07

Provisional Standings – Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge 2023 after 2 of 5 stages
1 Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Honda, 7:10:30
2 Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Honda, 7:12:00 +1:30
3 Luciano Benavides (ARG), Husqvarna, 7:13:57 +3:27
4 Ignacio Cornejo (CHI), Honda, 7:13:58 +3:28
5 Ross Branch (BWA), Hero, 7:14:24 +3:54
6 Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 7:14:29 +3:59

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