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Roma tightens grip on Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

Spain's Nani Roma took a major step toward a first victory in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge yesterday while Dubai-based British rider Sam Sunderland came under pressure but retained his lead in the bikes class on another day of cross country rallying at its best in the Rub Al Khali.

While defending champion Jean-Louis Schlesser won the spectacular 284-km Qasr Al Sarab Stage 3 to take his buggy into third place overall in the cars category, the third fastest time on the day was enough to allow Roma and French co-driver Michel Perin to more than double their overnight lead to 40 mins 39 secs in a Mini.

Fourth quickest on the stage, Brazillian Guilherme Spinelli partnered by Youssef Haddad in a Mitsubishi ASX, held third place at the end of another demanding passage through the towering dunes of the UAE's western region of Al Garbia.

Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke and fellow-countryman Erik Van Loon, both driving an HRX Ford X, and Czech driver Miroslav Zapletal in a Hummer H3, completed the top six.

Despite his commanding lead, Roma knows he cannot afford to relax over the final two legs, which is where many other victory hopes have been buried over the years.

He completed the Qasr Al Sarab stage and said: "It was another difficult stage and the sand was very soft. It's always harder to open a stage and make the tracks, and I was waiting and waiting for the cars to come behind me, but they never came.

"You just need to concentrate that much more in the desert. It's really tough like that, but that's the way it is in the Desert Challenge." "It was another day when the Desert Challenge lived up to its reputation for setting a tough, but fair examination for everyone," said Mohammed Ben Sulayem, president of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organizers, and event founder. "No-one ever said this was an easy event." Lying ninth overnight and leading the T2 production class which he was attempting to win for the third year in a row, the UAE's Yahya Alhelei did not start the stage after co-driver Abdul-Haleem Zayed was taken to Madinah Zayed Hospital following the second stage complaining of chest pain.

It was a day when four of the world's top cross country rally bike stars rode together on another dramatic passage through the spectacular dunes of the Rub Al Khali in pursuit of overnight leader Sunderland.

Poland's Jakub Przygonski was fastest on the Qasr Al Sarab stage from Portugal's Paulo Goncalves, Spain's reigning world champion and six-times Desert Challenge winner Marc Coma and Norwegian former world champion Pal Anders Ullevalseter. But while they managed to close the gap, Sunderland is still out in front, although the pressure on him will be intense over the remaining two days.

Leading positions after Qasr Al Sarab Special Stage 3: Cars -- 1. Nani Roma / Michel Perin (ESP / FRA) MINI All 4 Racing X T1 09:47.03 2. Guilherme Spinelli / Youssef Haddad (BRA / BRA) Mitsubishi ASX T1 10:27.42 3. Jean Louis Schlesser / Konstantin Zhilstov (FRA /RUS) Schlesser Orignal 10:33.24 4. Bernhard Ten Brinke / Matthieu Baumel (NLD / FRA) HRX Ford X T1 10:47.32 5. Erik Van Loon / Wouter Rosegr (NLD / NLD) HRX Ford X T1 10:57.21 6. Miroslav Zapletal / Maciej Marton (CZE / POL) Hummer H3 X T1 11:37.01 7. Holowczyc Krystof / Schulz Andreas (POL / GER) MINI All 4 Racing X T1 11:38.54 8. Leonid Ogorodnikov / Anton Nikolaev (RUS / RUS) Toyota Hilux T1 12:05.06 9. Stephan Schott / Holm Schmidt (GER / GER) MINI All 4 Racing T1 12:28.39 10. Yasir Saeidan (SAU) / Sebastien Telauny (FRA) Polaris T3 12:28.58 Bikes -- 1. Sam Sunderland (UAE) Honda CRF 450 X 07:22:08 2. Paulo Goncalves (PRT) Speedbrain 450 Rally 07:23:06 3. Marc Coma Camps (ESP) KTM 450 Rally Replica 07:23:25 4. Pal Anders Ullevalseter (NOR) KTM 450 Rally 07:35:54 5. Jakub Przygonski (POL) KTM 450 Rally Replica 07:37:54 6. David McBride (GBR) KTM 500 EXC 07:57:36 7. Tedeusz Blazusiak (POL) KTM 450 Rally Replica 07:58:44 8. Sebastian Husseini (NED) Honda TRX 700 XX 08:00:43 9. Juan Salvatierra Carlos (BOL) HM Honda CRE F 500 X 08:01:55 10. Miran Stanovnik (SVN) KTM 450 Rally Replica 08:07:01

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Apr 10, 2013
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