Stage Four of the rally completed the tough marathon stages, where riders camped overnight in a desert bivouac with no outside assistance from team mechanics. With the two stages totalling close to 600 kilometres, conservation of bikes and tyres was imperative for riders looking to successfully finish the two days and secure a strong result.
Over the course of the marathon stage riders were presented with a mixture of terrain including the fast, rocky tracks often seen during the rally so far and the soft sand dunes of the Sahara Desert. With his bike performing perfectly, Toby Price pushed hard on the rough, Moroccan ground. Setting off sixth, the Australian was able to catch and pass every rider ahead of him except for teammate Sunderland.
Toby Price: “The marathon stage went very well. It has been quite tricky – yesterday’s stage was harder on our tyres than expected, so we had to ride intelligently today. I made a small mistake yesterday but was lucky enough to find my way quickly again, that gave me a perfect start position for today. I navigated through the stage really well and made up some good time. The bike was great and handled everything really well, the balance in all of the riding conditions is perfect – thanks to the WP Suspension guys for that. One more day to go now, so we’ll see where we end up and hopefully claim a good result for the rally.”
Following his Stage Three win, Sam Sunderland led the riders away from the bivouac this morning. The 2017 Dakar Rally Champion opened the stage from start-to-finish, never headed by the riders behind. Sunderland’s finishing time placed him third, less than one-minute behind the stage runner-up.
Sam Sunderland: “It’s nice to finish the marathon stage. I was fastest yesterday and had a really good feeling on the bike. I did make a couple of mistakes but kept to a good rhythm and managed to get the stage win. Today I set off first, which is always a challenge, especially in the dunes as it’s easy for the guys behind to follow, but I still managed to reach the finish first. That’s encouraging, especially as things like the tyres were worn out after such a long distance. The bike feels really good and I’m happy with my riding, it’s just a shame I lost so much time on Saturday.”
Finishing fifth on the day’s stage, Matthias Walkner now lies second in the provisional overall rally standings with one day left to race. Walkner rode a solid Stage Four, but a small error cost the Austrian rider a number of valuable minutes, ultimately dropping him down the order. Nevertheless, his fifth place start for Tuesday’s final stage will be an advantage in the battle to secure a podium place.
Matthias Walkner: “Yesterday went really good – I opened the whole piste and still finished second. I feel it cost me a lot of energy though, especially mentally, I was feeling especially tired today and wasn’t 100%. Today everything was good up to the refuelling point at 250 kilometres, after that I made a silly mistake where I went off-track and lost seven or eight minutes. It was my own fault but it’s frustrating as I know my speed is good. In the end I tried my best and mistakes can happen. I’ll try again tomorrow and aim to finish on the podium.”
KTM Factory Racing’s Luciano Benavides continues to learn the skills required for cross-country rally racing. Despite feeling unwell right from the beginning of Stage Four, the young Argentinian made it safely to the finish in a solid 15th place. With one day of competition left, Benavides will aim for a strong end to his Rally du Maroc in preparation for the forthcoming Dakar Rally next January.
Luciano Benavides: “The marathon stage was tough – the navigation was really tricky, I made some mistakes and got lost over the two days. At the beginning of today’s stage, I felt really bad – I had no energy at all and it took all my determination to stay on the bike and finish the stage. It was one of the hardest days of racing in my life, but I managed to ride smoothly and get to the finish in one piece. I am happy to get to the end of the stage safely and will continue with my main goal, which is preparation for the Dakar.”
Tuesday’s fifth and final stage of the Rally du Maroc, will see riders leave the Saharan town of Erfoud and head north, back to the city of Fes in northern Morocco. The long 457-kilometre stage will include two timed specials, one measuring 128 kilometres and a second at just 70 kilometres.
Results – Stage Four - 2018 Rally du Maroc
1. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 3:43:41
2. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Husqvarna, 3:50:41 +7:00
3. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 3:51:28 +7:47
4. Ricky Brabec (USA), Honda, 3:54:24 +10:43
5. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 3:57:38 +13:21
Provisional Standings – 2018 Rally du Maroc after 4 of 5 stages
1. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 13:36:29
2. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 13:43:56 +7:27
3. Ricky Brabec (USA), Honda, 13:53:16 +16:47
4. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Husqvarna, 14:04:20 +27:51
5. Paulo Goncalves (PRT), Honda, 14:23:55 +47:26