Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Luciano Benavides has won the tough stage two at the 2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. Skilfully mastering the dunes throughout the stage, the Argentinian brought his FR 450 Rally home over one minute ahead of the second-placed rider. A small technical issue cost Skyler Howes some time on the special, but the Dakar podium finisher was able to overcome the problem to place third on the stage.
Marking the first leg of the event’s marathon stage, stage two of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge saw competitors cover 365 kilometres through the Liwa desert, 257 of which were timed special raced against the clock. Luciano Benavides dominated the results today, moving into the lead on time from around kilometre 50 before increasing that advantage all the way to the finish.
Despite not collecting any bonus time for partly opening the stage from his eighth-place start position, Benavides topped the day’s timesheets by well over one minute, and now moves up to a provisional third in the overall rally standings. The 27-year-old will be tasked with opening day three of the event, the 303-kilometre second leg of the marathon stage.
Putting in an incredible performance on today’s stage, despite a small technical issue that plagued him throughout, Skyler Howes placed third and now lies eighth overall, less than six minutes from the leader. Suffering a small fuel leak early on in the special, Howes initially continued to battle through the stage, but in the final few kilometres, the American had to ease his pace or risk running out of fuel. Using the 30 minutes allotted to him at the end of the day, Skyler was able to apply a more permanent repair, which will hopefully last the day’s racing tomorrow.
Luciano Benavides: “It was a really nice day today. The dunes were slower, more technical – but that’s how I prefer it. The day was tiring with the terrain proving to be really physical, especially as I was pushing hard from start to finish. It all paid off though and I was able to take my first stage win of this year’s race. My rhythm was good today and my confidence is high. Tomorrow, I’m opening the stage, so hopefully I can do a good job without losing too much time to the guys behind. I’ll get some rest now and give my all again tomorrow.”
Skyler Howes: “It’s been a slightly stressful stage for me today. My pace out there was really good, especially in the first half of the special. When I came into the refuelling, I found I had a small leak and after investigating, it turned out that just a single rubber seal had torn slightly. It continued to leak for the rest of the stage, and because I was going to be tight on fuel towards the end, I did have to ease back a little, short shifting and trying to conserve as much gas as I could. At the end of the stage, we only had 30 minutes to work on our bikes, but thanks to the help from my teammate, I think we got the problem sorted. So, fingers crossed it holds for tomorrow as we have a long way to go.”
2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge – Stage 2 Provisional Classification
1. Luciano Benavides (Husqvarna) 3:24:50
2. Jose Ignacio Cornejo (Honda) 3:26:07
3. Skyler Howes (Husqvarna) 3:26:34
4. Ricky Brabec (Honda) 3:27:08
5. Adrien Van Beveren (Honda) 3:27:59
6. Mason Klein (KTM) 3:28:11
2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge – Provisional Overall Classification [After Stage 2]
1. Adrien Van Beveren (Honda) 7:10:30
2. Pablo Quintanilla (Honda) 7:12:00
3. Luciano Benavides (Husqvarna) 7:13:57
4. Jose Ignacio Cornejo (Honda) 7:13:58
5. Ross Branch (Hero) 7:14:24
6. Toby Price (KTM) 7:14:29
8. Skyler Howes (Husqvarna) 7:16:19