Rallye

Ross Branch Wins Opening Stage At 2021 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

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Delivering a strong performance on the opening stage of the rally, Ross Branch secured the win following a tantalising battle with Matthias Walkner

Ross Branch has begun the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in the best way possible with victory on stage one ahead of Matthias Walkner and Franco Caimi .

Stage one of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge saw riders navigate their way across rolling sand dunes and along desert tracks and offered quite a diverse challenge on day one of the rally. Riders completed a 262-kilometre timed special before reaching the overnight bivouac ahead of tomorrow’s stage two.

Up to speed and confident in his ability to master the challenging sand dunes that formed a large part of the special, Branch moved into the lead midway through the opening stage and now lies at the top of the overall provisional classification.

Delivering a strong performance on the opening stage of the rally, Ross Branch secured the win following a tantalising battle with Matthias Walkner. Riding with confidence, the Botswana native enjoyed the high pace of the leaders through the desert and in claiming the stage victory, now faces the serious challenge of leading out on Monday’s stage two.

“All in all it’s been a great day today for myself and the whole team,” Branch reflected. “I really enjoyed the stage, and the dunes were amazing, so it was a fun day in the desert. The pace at the front was high which was a good experience and certainly helped with my overall speed. I’ll be leading out tomorrow so I’m excited about that as it’ll be a nice challenge and hopefully, I can do a good job and stay upfront.”


Although his start position meant he was able to make up time by chasing down the 14 riders ahead of him, it also meant Matthias Walkner had to catch and pass those riders, as he did to finish second.

Completing the special in second, a mere six seconds down on Branch, Matthias Walkner lies second overall in the provisional rally standings – just four seconds back thanks to his Prologue performance. Now, with an excellent opportunity to chase down the race leader on Monday’s stage two, Walkner is extremely happy with how his race has started.

“I had a good day today – the pace was really high and by the refuelling, I could see I was about one minute down of the leader,” Walkner said. “I pushed as hard as I could after that and managed to bring the gap down to just six seconds, which I was happy with. It puts me in a really good position for tomorrow’s stage and hopefully, I can make up a little more time. The goal of the rally is to just enjoy my riding, get some more time on the bike, and not make any big mistakes. I’ll give it my best as always, and hopefully, keep this momentum up for the rest of the race.”

Franco Caimi finished the stage in third position. He got into a good rhythm from the start and was within the top 3 throughout the stage.

“It is my first time in this desert yet I found a good rhythm on the bike and was able to deliver a good first stage. The bike is working perfectly, so I am happy and motivated for Stage 2,” Caimi said.

Daniel Sanders claimed fourth place on the opening stage, just five seconds off the top three! Racing in the country for the first time, Sanders was keen to impress on the mostly sandy stage, with the rally terrain falling well within his comfort zone.

Franco Caimi finished the stage in third position.

Despite his cautious approach, Sanders still put in an impressive ride – not bad considering he even made a few errors with his navigation! Combined with his prologue result, Daniel lies third overall going into day two, three minutes down on the provisional rally leader. And with two of his main opponents starting ahead of him tomorrow, Chucky will be fired up to chase down the riders in front and reduce the gap in the overall standings.

“Not a bad day for me, but not the best,” Sanders said. “As this is my first time in Abu Dhabi, I didn’t really know how the desert was and had a couple of scares early on with some big drops. I eased back a little and tried to stick to a good, solid pace, and other than a couple of navigation mistakes it all went well. I think towards the end I was riding a little bit too cautious, but it was a good day to get my eye in. I start fourth tomorrow so hopefully I can chase down the guys in front.”

Posting the fifth-fastest time on stage one, Adrien Van Beveren enjoyed the testing conditions found on the opening day of the rally. Leading the stage for 60 kilometres and maintaining his strong pace throughout the 262-kilometre special, the Frenchman delivered an excellent result to finish just under five minutes behind Branch after nearly three and a half hours of racing.

“I’m happy with today,” Van Beveren said. “After not such a good time in the prologue yesterday, I started down the order but quickly caught up and led the stage from kilometre 100 to kilometre 160. So this was a challenge, but I enjoyed it. To finish just five minutes behind Ross is great after opening a lot of the stage and by finishing fifth, I start tomorrow in a great position to follow the lines and hopefully I can produce another strong result.”

Monday’s stage two of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is the longest of the event at 470.58 kilometers and will see riders take on a timed special of 333.43 kilometers.

Daniel Sanders lies third overall after the prologue and stage one and continues to learn and build his experience with four tough days of rallying still lie ahead. Photo: RallyZone

Provisional Stage 1 Rankings
1 Ross Branch (Yamaha) 3:20:19
2 Matthias Walkner (KTM) 3:20:25 + 0:00:06
3 Franco Caimi (Hero) 3:23:21 + 0:03:02
4 Daniel Sanders (GASGAS) 3:23:26 + 0:03:07
5 Adrien Van Beveren (Yamaha) 3:25:11 + 0:04:52
6 Andrew Short (Yamaha) 3:26:26 + 0:06:07
7 Joaquim Rodrigues, Hero MotoSports Team Rally, + 09m 03s
8 Sebastian Buhler, Hero MotoSports Team Rally, + 19m 07s

Overall Provisional Classification (after stage 1)
1 Ross Branch (Yamaha) 3:25:14
2 Matthias Walkner (KTM) 3:25:35 + 0:00:04
3 Daniel Sanders (GASGAS) 3:28:38 + 0:03:06
4 Franco Caimi (Hero) 3:28:39 + 0:03:07
5 Adrien Van Beveren (Yamaha) 3:30:36 + 0:05:04
6 Andrew Short (Yamaha) 3:31:44 + 0:06:13

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