Red Bull KTM Factory Racing cleaned up in the first round of the 2019 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship with Sam Sunderland taking the top step of the podium, ahead of teammate Luciano Benavides.
Sunderland lead the overall standings by a narrow 18 seconds over the second-placed rider coming into the final stage, which wound its way north for a total of 351.96 kilometres, with a 214.47-kilometre special testing the riders before the finish at the famous Yas Marina Circuit.
Arriving at the finish, Sam won the stage by an impressive three-minutes-and-26-seconds from his teammate Benavides and in turn claimed the rally victory by over eight minutes.
“Things went perfectly today. We knew coming into today’s final stage that we would have to stick to our planned strategy, commented Sunderland. “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.”
With both his speed and confidence improving, 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.
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.
The second round of the 2019 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship will be the Silk Way Rally, starting in Russia on July 6.
Provisional Results Stage Five – 2019 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
1. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 2:39:59
2. Luciano Benavides (ARG), KTM, 2:43:25 +3:26
3. Joan Barreda (ESP), Honda, 2:46:42 +6:43
4. Jose Ignacio Cornejo (CHL), Honda, 2:49:40 +9:41
5. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 2:53:34 +13:35
Provisional Overall Results – 2019 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
1. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 17:46:42
2. Luciano Benavides (ARG), KTM, 17:55:02 +8:20
3. Jose Ignacio Cornejo (CHL), Honda, 17:56:41 +9:59
4. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 18:21:33 +34:51
5. Andrew Short (USA), Husqvarna, 18:48:22 +1:01:40