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Abu Dhabi  Desert Challenge- Marian Chatka

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge: Podium Lockout for the Monster Energy Honda Team

Mar 132022

A double podium and world championship points in Abu Dhabi. All in a standard week’s work for Ricky Brabec and Pablo Quintanilla; who locked in second and third place respectively at the end of the 2022 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. 

What’s more Ignacio Nacho Cornejo brought his Honda CRF 450 Rally home in P7, meaning the massive haul of points places the Monster Energy Honda Team at the top of the overall standings in the FIM 2R World Rally-Raid Championship.

The challenge of this year’s appropriately named Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge was unsurprisingly dominated by dunes and sand. Tons of it. More specifically the fine soft sand of the Rub’ al Khali desert - ominously known as “The Empty Quarter”. 

Scenic and relentless - it was all characterized by brutal wind which takes your breath away, mixed with Hell’s own dust, blinding sun, and torrid temperatures during the day. To top it all off, this year’s route spanned 1,917km over five days of sprint-style competition. 

Starting as the favorites, all eyes were on the Monster Energy Honda Team and its top 2022 Dakar finishing rider Chilean Pablo Quintanilla - who also is a previous winner of the (2018) Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. Despite the previous strong results in Abu Dhabi, Quintanilla was realistic about the challenge he faced - especially since he would be riding with a recent injury sustained in training. Quintanilla explained: “For me, it was particularly complicated because I arrived in Abu Dhabi with injured ribs, so I had to fight with the pain throughout the whole rally. For this reason, I’m particularly happy with my podium finish”.


“We tackled the last timed section of 209 km (Hameem - Yas Marina Circuit) determined to attack and close the gap. I pushed a lot and at km 100 I had caught the riders who had started in front of me and then from km 120 till the end I opened the track. As we know, on this kind of terrain, the one who opens the track has the most difficult task and it’s hard to gain time opening the track. We knew it and this was part of the game.


“All in all, I’m really happy with my third place: I did an intelligent race, taking advantage of the opportunities I had, competing every day with a consistent pace. This terrain is tricky and dangerous. We tackled broken dunes, sudden drops. Finishing third is a great result. I’m really happy for the team, it’s a good restart after the Dakar Rally. Now it’s time to rest a bit, recover the body and then start the preparation for the next rally”. 

The US off-road racer and 2020 Dakar winner Ricky Brabec had been snapping at his teammates' heels for the entire race and managed to snatch P2  and challenge for the overall win with just 50 km to go on the final stage.


“The times were so close that everyone was on the gas pushing at the maximum”, explained Brabec from the second spot of the podium in Abu Dhabi. “It was an insane final stage; I gave it all and I could make up some time on Sunderland. At PK163, with less than 50 kilometers to go, I was so close to winning, and in fact, we finished second with only 34 seconds down on Sam. We knew it would be hard to beat Sam – he used to live out here. We did our best for the team and we’re looking forward to the next one. Thanks to all the team!”

It was a very positive return to form for newly signed Hero Motorsport riders Franco Caimi and Ross Branch. For both racers, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge also marked a return to action after two big injuries. A fracture to his right wrist had prevented Caimi from racing in the Dakar while Branch was joining the Hero Motorsports squad for the first time after also recovering from a leg injury suffered at the Dakar January.


“It was a demanding race, especially as I was still not at my 100 percent. I was really happy because all the hard work we put on to recover after my injury, paid off,” said Caimi, who finished 8th overall.


“My hand is not as strong as it should be, but we never gave up and this is a good point to move on. I’m happy because I could ride consistently on the dunes, which is the most extreme terrain, especially when you are not completely recovered.”

Branch added: “It was a crazy race. It was a bit of a rollercoaster with the mistake I made on day one. It was a stupid mistake but with some big consequences, because in the crash I hurt myself. I was not feeling well the following day, but I gave it all, and to have a stage win for my new team was a great satisfaction. Winning on day 2 gave me confidence also in my adaptation process to the new bike. If I look back, I cannot be happy with my final result, but I need to admit that it was a good week to learn the new machine and my new team. I learned a lot and I look forward to the next challenge.”

Strategy first. Starting as the man to beat in the T4 category, the focus for the field was on the 2022 Dakar winner and defending champion Austin Jones. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as expected for the Monster Energy athlete, after suffering a mechanical failure on stage one. 


Frustratingly the engine of his Maverick Can-Am shut down and refused to restart; meaning he had to be towed back to the bivouac, and inherited an unwelcome 16-hour penalty. Despite all of this Jones remained focused, calm, and kept pushing. The following results speak for themselves. P2 on day two, a stage win on day three, third on day four, and another stage win on the final day. Finishing 5th overall, the duo Jones-Gugelmin maintains the lead in the 2R Rally Raid world championship with 122 points in total


“With no hope of winning this race due to the mechanical issue on day one, we focused on keeping a good race pace, and we dedicated some time testing some parts that could be really useful for the season. Despite the initial frustration, we had a nice battle with the Polish pilots that proved to be very competitive

We kept on going chasing as many points as possible for the championships. We managed to finish with two stage wins, a second and a third position. Congratulations to the Polish duo Goczal-Laskawiec for the win and I’m excited for the Andalucia Rally, our next challenge”, concluded Jones. 


The 2022 FIA World Rally Raid Championship continues in Kazakhstan on April 24th.