With one stage remaining in the legendary Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, Round 2 of the 2023 FIA/FIM World Rally Raid Championship, Monster Energy/Honda HRC’s Adrien Van Beveren is in the driver’s saddle, leading the entire motorcycle field as the stage is set for a thrilling final battle-in-the-sands from Qasr Al Sarab back to Abu Dhabi on Friday.
The remote UAE deserts are a fitting test for the world’s top off-road racers, and Monster Energy/Honda HRC, including current 3rd place overall racer Jose Ignacio Cornejo, along Monster Energy-backed Ross Branch (Hero Motorsports) in 4th position, give Monster Energy not only the leader, but two podium positions, and three of the top five overall places, heading into the final Stage 5 – a 206 KM Special stage and 164 KM Liaison to decide the week-long competition’s champion.
On Thursday, Van Beveren would put his Honda CRF450 Rally bike on the podium in 2nd place, overcoming poor visibility at the start of the race to place 3:22 behind Husqvarna’s Luciano Benavides. AVB still kept his overall race lead by 2:58 following the 4th of 5 stages.
Said Van Beveren: “I knew today was the day to push, so I did it from the beginning. I was able to reach Nacho (Monster Energy/Honda HRC teammate Cornejo) at around kilometer 100 and then rode with him. It was great to have him by my side, because when you ride alone, it is more difficult to keep a high rhythm. We did a good job together and I ama happy about my day. The goal was to do a good time, and that is what we accomplished.”
Monster Energy/Honda HRC’s Ricky Brabec, who was injured earlier in the year at the World Rally Raid Championship’s opening round – the famed Dakar Rally – has rebounded nicely and placed 4th on the day, and currently sits in 7th place overall in the standings.
Added Brabec: “I am glad to finish another day. The team is united and committed to do a good performance here in the Desert Challenge. Now we have just one more day to the finish line, so let’s keep the focus and do our best.”
One tough note from Abu Dhabi was the race retirement of Monster Energy/Honda HRC’s Pablo Quintanilla. The Chilean won the Desert Challenge’s Prologue race and opening stage (Stage 1) and was in 2nd place overall behind Van Beveren to start the day when “technical difficulties,” according to Honda HRC, forced him out of the competition.
Finally, Monster Energy-backed Branch was pumped with his podium finish at Stage 4 (his second stage podium finish this week), and is pleased to be within striking distance of the overall podium with one stage remaining.
Said Branch: “Today was a really long day, with over 300 kilometers in the dunes. However, there weren’t as many drop-offs as in the past days, so we could open it up a little bit. Lots of flowing valleys and some really good fun. Everyone at the top is riding really well, and I’m happy to be where I am now. Looking forward to the final day.”
For more information on the FIM World Rally Raid Championship, including live timing and scoring, check out the official series website.