The five-leg competition was shorter than usual, thanks to an unruly sandstorm which forced officials to cancel the first leg completely. Once riding commenced on the second day, it was Sunderland at the top of the heap, leading Coma and Goncalves, who fell into second and third respectively. Sunderland had built a two minute advantage on Coma after Leg 2, which provided just enough buffer after Leg 3 where the Honda rider lost ground, earning fifth in the stage.
Polish rider Jakub Przygonski came away with the Leg 3 win, holding Goncalves to second and Coma to third. Sunderland remained leader overall, though his advantage was cut to less than a minute.
In Leg 4, the Honda ace rallied back for the stage win and put himself over two minutes ahead of his closest competition once again. Sunderland is relatively new to the rally scene, marking his first appearance in the Abu Dhabi Rally in 2011 where he won two stages. Later that year he won three stages in the Australasian Safari and in 2012 he ran his maiden Dakar. He came out strong in the first stage of the South American mega-rally, earning seventh, but was soon forced to retire due to electrical issues. He earned redemption in the Sardinia Rally of 2012, where he placed 13th overall and took second in his class. He was set to run the 2013 Dakar with the newly formed Team HRC, but a crash in testing left him unable to compete.
Sunderland’s luck failed him once again in the 2013 Abu Dhabi challenge, as he incurred a 10-minute penalty overnight before Leg 5 due to a technical infraction. Sunderland had stopped to talk with mechanics about a broken exhaust during a liaison and forgot to run through the final two gates, which caused the penalty. He ran hard in the final leg regardless and placed fifth, a minute-and-a-half off the stage winner, Goncalves. Coma took second in the final stage, followed by Honda rider Helder Rodrigues in third.
EnduroCross champion, Taddy Blazusiak, made his rally debut during the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in 2013.
“I’m very happy to win but feel sorry for Sam because it was clear he was the fastest rider over the five days and deserved his victory,” said Coma following the final stage. “But those are the rules and we have to abide by them. For me I was just riding easy for the first three days and just trying to get used to the desert again. I rode harder today, but I knew I had to ride cleanly and not make any mistakes.”
KTM rider Pal Anders Ullevalseter ended in fourth overall and was followed by Przygonski in fifth. Juan Salvatierra Carlos held steady in sixth overall ahead of first time rally contestant and EnduroCross heavyweight, Taddy Blazusiak, who placed seventh.
The next installment of the 2013 Cross Country Rallies World Championship takes riders to Qatar for the second-ever Sealine Cross Country Rally scheduled to run April 22-26.
Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Overall Results 2013:
1. Marc Coma (KTM) 14:23.51
2. Paulo Goncalves (Husqvarna) 14:24.23
3. Sam Sunderland (Honda) 14:32.36
4. Pal Anders Ullevalseter (KTM) 14:41.03
5. Jakub Pryzgonski (KTM) 14:41.53
6. Juan Salvatierra Carlos (Honda) 15:26.01
7. Taddy Blazusiak (KTM) 15:27.12
8. Miran Stanovnik (KTM) 15:41.22
9. Khalid Khamis Ozair (Honda) 16:05.43
10. Sean Linton (KTM) 16:22.02