World Rally Raid Championship leaders Sébastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin were back in action today behind the wheel of their Bahrain Raid Xtreme Prodrive Hunter as the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge kicked off with a seven kilometre prologue stage on the outskirts of Al Dannah city in the UAE emirate of Abu Dhabi.
On his birthday, Loeb opened the stage by virtue of heading the title table so had to thread his way across the many tracks left by the motorcycles that had completed the test a few minutes earlier, but they fought through the sand to finish third on this precursor stage.
Driving the sister Prodrive Hunter in the GCK Motorsport colours, Guerlain Chicherit and Alex Winocq were likely to take the stage victory but got caught in the thick dust that was hanging in the air from a previous car. They misjudged a junction, going left not right, thus losing crucial time to finish in second place, but this proves the speed they still have in the car following their two Dakar stage victories last month to place them third in the championship.
Ahead lie 2,170 kilometres of the toughest pure desert rally on the planet as the World Championship contenders return to the similar dunes that made up the second week of January’s Dakar where the Prodrive Hunter won every single stage over the final week.
Tomorrow sees the rally travel south with a 242 kilometre stage comprising half sand and half dunes before the bivouac at Liwa.
“It was ok. Difficult to optimise everything because we were opening that stage and there were the lines from the motorbikes but it was really soft sand to almost bog us down. Maybe I could cut a bit more across some corners but I think some of the cars following did this even more. For such a short stage it was all good though: No problem at all before we really start this rally tomorrow.”
“It was great. Always good to find the right speed straight away from the flag even if it’s only seven kilometres. It was almost the perfect stage until we went left when we should’ve gone right as it was in the dust; really dusty with it hanging in the air for quite a long time after the car before. So I suppose we lost the victory today because of this but I know the speed we have in the car. Tomorrow!”
Gus Beteli, Team Principal
“That’s a prologue done and dusted, literally! So good to get the first day out of the way after all of the re prep following Dakar that the team has done in advance of this rally. Running the cars in anger even for a short distance is confidence building for us all even if the real rally starts tomorrow and then we’ll see where we are.”
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NOTES TO EDITORS
About Bahrain Raid Xtreme
A joint partnership between the Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Company (Mumtalakat), the sovereign wealth fund of the Kingdom of Bahrain, and Prodrive the British motorsport and engineering group formed the joint venture Prodrive International in 2020. Building on Prodrive’s extensive experience in developing championship winning race and rally cars, its aim is design and manufacture cars to compete in the Dakar Rally and World Rally Raid Championship. BRX achieved the best finishing position, 5 with Nani Roma on debut in 2021, and 2 with Sebastien Loeb in 2021. Its Hunter cars run Prodrive EcoPower, a sustainable fuel made from agricultural waste by BRX team partner Coryton. The fuel reduces CO2 emissions by 80% compared to standard fuel.
Prodrive is one of the world’s largest and most successful motorsport and technology businesses. Over 500 staff are employed across its Banbury headquarters and composites manufacturing facility in Milton Keynes. While the company is perhaps best known for motorsport, today it is just one part of an organisation that in the last decade has diversified to become a technology business working in a range of sectors and providing a range of services. Within the Prodrive Group, there are four distinct but interconnected business areas: Motorsport, operating race and rally programmes for vehicle manufacturers and global brands; Advanced Technology, providing innovative technology for the automotive, aerospace, defence, and marine sectors; Composites, developing lightweight composite components for the automotive, aerospace and marine sectors; and Brand& developing bespoke clothing and accessories for leading brands.
About Guerlain Chicherit
Born on 20 May 1978, Guerlain Chicherit made a name for himself in the 2000s as four-time freeride ski world champion. In 2005 he finished 49th in his first Dakar rally. The following year he climbed 40 places, and was fifth in 2020, his best result so far, including a stage win. In 2009 he won the FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup, taking the Desert Challenge in Abu Dhabi and the Transibérico along the way. After a six-year hiatus, he came back with his own outfit – GCK Motorsport – and a plan to win the Dakar with a zero-emission hydrogen-powered vehicle by 2027.
About GCK Motorsport
Founded in 2017 by Guerlain Chicherit, GCK Motorsport showed excellent potential from the start with several podium places in the FIA World Rallycross Championship. In 2020 the team joined Green Corp Konnection (GCK), a group of industrial companies promoting innovative technologies for greener mobility. The racing arm of the group is a test bed for the ground-breaking solutions, serving to prove their reliability and high-performance in gruelling real-life conditions. One of the group’s targets is to be the first to win the Dakar with a hydrogen-powered car.