Poland's Krzysztof Holowczyc, Spaniard Marc Coma and Qatar's Adel Hussein Abdullah recorded the fastest selective section times in the car, motorcycle and quad categories on the third and penultimate day of the 2013 Sealine Cross-Country Rally in southern Qatar on Thursday.
Coma will start the final leg with a 2min 04sec lead over Portugal's Paulo Gonçalves in the motorcycle class and the pair could be set for a thrilling 'motocross-style' showdown over the closing kilometres to determine the winner on Friday.
"For three days now we have been finishing the stages together," said the Portuguese. "I will try hard tomorrow, but even if I catch the two minutes, it will be difficult to finish four seconds in front of him to take the win. I must also make sure I finish to get the points for the Speedbrain team."
Coma was upbeat about his chances on the factory KTM: "You know motocross at the end perhaps, maybe even a sprint finish like a cycling race. We will see!" Poland's Jakub Przygonski holds third position and Chile's Francisco Lopez is fourth.
Norwegian rider Pal-Anders Ullevalseter started the day in fourth overall, a mere 14 seconds behind Coma, but he fell and broke his femur shortly after the second passage control and was airlifted to hospital for medical attention. He had fallen back with gearbox problems before the crash.
Sonik maintained his quad category lead heading into the final day. The Pole, winner in 2012, has a massive advantage over the UAE's Obaid Al-Kitbe, although he was pushed hard for the day's stage win by the resurgent Adel Hussein Abdullah and the Qatari claimed the stage win when Sonik incurred a 20-minute time penalty.
Day 3 – as it happened
A mere 14 seconds separated the top four riders at the start of the third stage, although leader Coma had the slight benefit of following his main rivals into the desert and the onus was on Lopez to perform accurate navigation from the outset.
By the first passage control, at 109.56km, the leading quintet had been locked in a fascinating tussle for supremacy and Coma had the slight edge. He was running just seven seconds quicker than Gonçalves, but the pair had begun to catch Lopez, Przygonski and Ullevalseter. The Norwegian was caught and overtaken by the Portuguese and he lost over two minutes to his rival.
At refuelling, after 193.33km, Coma had begun to press home his advantage and the Spaniard was running just behind Gonçalves. His virtual stage lead was 2min 15sec. Przygonski and Lopez were riding close together in third and fourth, but Ullevalseter had dropped behind after losing three gears. He dropped seven minutes to Coma and any chance of winning the Sealine event had gone.
Al-Kitbe continued his excellent run of form after his day one set back to take the early lead in the quad category from Mohammed Al-Shamsi and Sonik. But the Emirati and the Pole regained the upper hand by PC2 and Al-Shamsi was the virtual stage leader heading to the third checkpoint.
Coma's plan of attack was on full song through the third PC after 286.72km and the Spaniard manage to pass his four rivals and edged into a 2min 31sec virtual stage lead over Gonçalves, as the leading duo and Przygonski and Lopez arrived together at the control. Ullevalseter had been running with crippling gearbox issues but he fell after the refuelling point, broke a leg and personally summoned immediate medical assistance by telephone.
Coma held on to his lead to seal the stage win by 2min 01sec to ensure that he took an overall advantage of 64 seconds into the final leg on Friday. Gonçalves was second and Sonik maintained the overall lead in the quad section, despite a useful ride by Adel Hussein Abdullah to claim the stage win.
1. Marc Coma (ESP) KTM 450 Rally Replica 4hr 40min 35sec
2. Paulo Gonçalves (PRT) Speedbrain 450 Rally 4hr 42min 36sec
3. Jakub Przygonski (POL) KTM 450 Rally Replica 4hr 46min 37sec
4. Francesco Lopez (CHL) KTM 450 Rally Replica 4hr 48min 36sec
5. Quinn Cody (USA) Speedbrain 450 Rally 5hr 14min 59sec
1. Adel-Hussain Abdullah (QAT) Suzuki ATV 6hr 08min 59sec
2. Rafal Sonik (POL) Honda TRX 700 6hr 23min 40sec
3. Obaid Al-Kitbe (ARE) Honda TRX 700 6hr 34min 48sec
4. Mohammed Abu Issa (QAT) Yamaha Raptor 700 6hr 43min 57sec
1. Marc Coma (ESP) KTM 450 Rally Replica 14hr 33min 19sec
2. Paulo Gonçalves (PRT) Speedbrain 450 Rally 14hr 35min 23sec
3. Jakub Przygonski (POL) KTM 450 Rally Replica 14hr 39min 27sec
4. Francesco Lopez (CHL) KTM 450 Rally Replica 14hr 45min 46sec
5. Juan Carlos Salvatierra (BOL) Honda CRE F 500 X 16hr 06min 03sec, etc
1. Rafal Sonik (POL) Honda TRX 700 18hr 14min 02sec
2. Obaid Al-Kitbe (ARE) Honda TRX 700 19hr 47min 51sec
3. Mohammed Abu Issa (QAT) Yamaha Raptor 700 21hr 05min 26sec, etc