ABU DHABI, 10 March (BelTA - Emirates News Agensy). - The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge has produced many final day dramas down the years, and another thrilling climax is assured as the rally returns from the spectacular Al Dhafra dunes to the UAE capital.
The bottom line following 243km Abu Dhabi Aviation Stage 4 is that it will take a spectacular turnaround to prevent a seventh cars triumph for France's Stephane Peterhansel, but the battle for victory on two wheels remains wide open.
Peterhansel, in an Audi RS Q e-tron, has increased his overall lead to 33 mins 21secs from the 2018 champion, Czech Martin Prokop, in a Ford Raptor, and needs only to avoid disaster on the last day to become the most successful driver in the event's 31-year history.
It is a completely different story on two wheels, with the top four separated by just 2 mins 34 secs, and a succession of other leading factory team riders waiting to pounce following memorable first ever stage win for Argentina's Luciano Benavides. He lies ninth on a Husqvarna, 11 mins off the pace, but was ecstatic after a brilliant ride.
Sam Sunderland's lead on his GasGas was slashed by more than 4 mins to just 23 secs from Chile's Pablo Quintanilla on a Honda, and Australian Toby Price is just 1 min 19 further away, ahead of American star Ricky Brabec on another Honda.
For a third day, defending champion Nasser Al Attiyah in a Toyota Hilux was easily the fastest driver on the stage, going 3 mins 1 sec quicker than the Prodrive Hunter of Sebastien Loeb, his major rival in the tussle for the World Rally-Raid Championship title.
Problems over the first three days for Al Attiyah, Loeb, Poland's Jakub Przygonski and Saudi Arabia's Yazeed Al Rahji sent the T1 quartet out of contention this week, opening the door for one of the lightweight prototypes towards an overall top three finish in Abu Dhabi.
Holding the provisional podium spot at the end of the leg in a Can-AM Maverick was Francisco Lopez. The Chilean lost 30 minutes with a broken drive shaft the previous day, but now has an advantage of 9 mins 33 secs over Spain's Cristina Gutierrez in an Overdrive OT3.
Claiming fifth overall is Poland's T4 leader Marek Goczal in a Can-AM Maverick, with his fellow-countryman Przygonski completing the top six for the T1 contingent in his Mini John Cooper Works Buggy.
Meanwhile, there should be no more emphatic winner in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge than Emirati rider Abdulaziz Ahli, the defending quads champion on a Yamaha Raptor who is 1hr 48 mins 32 secs clear of Slovakia's Juraj Varga.
"It was not easy for us but we did good work to get here in good shape. We need to drive safe and be safe because we want to win, so we will do our best," Peterhansel completed the stage to tell ADDC's website.
Prokop commented: "I tried to enjoy the stage and the dunes – that is why we are here and taking part in this fantastic rally. It well the last stage is always with mixed feelings. I always enjoy going into Abu Dhabi, but it is a long stage so it is not easy."
Abu Dhabi Aviation stage winner Al Attiyah said: "I am quite happy with our performance and yes, it has been a good day for us. I don't know about the overall classification. But I do know that every point will help us for the championship."