Coming into the Rallye du Maroc with a 20-point advantage at the top of the championship standings, Matthias Walkner knew he still had to put in a strong performance at the penultimate round in order to clinch his second Cross-Country Rallies world title.
Using day one to get back up to speed on his KTM 450 RALLY after the three-month break since the previous round, Walkner used his skill and judgement to build his speed throughout the timed special to ultimately place fourth fastest. With the event heading into the vast expanse of the Merzouga dunes on day two, Matthias took the opportunity to push right from the outset and was able to successfully chase down his rivals ahead to win the stage by just over one minute. The result also elevated him into the overall rally lead.
Falling foul of one particularly tricky note in the road book on Monday’s stage three, Walkner dropped down the order to fourth as the event reached the halfway point. Coming back fighting, and with the goal of making up as much time as possible, the 2018 Dakar winner put in a superb performance that saw him narrowly miss his second stage win of the event by just 36 seconds.
On the fifth and final day, Walkner knew exactly what was needed of him to score enough points to claim the world title. With the timed special shortened by the organizers to just 166 kilometers, times were very close across the whole field. Placing eighth on the final stage, Walkner finished second overall for the event and earned himself 20 points, securing the 2021 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship for himself and KTM.
Of the three championship rounds raced so far, Walkner has shown incredible consistency, finishing as runner-up at the high-speed Rally Kazakhstan, before taking the win in the contrasting conditions of the epic Silk Way Rally, held in Russia less than one month later. Now, with another podium result in Morocco, the experienced 35-year-old has shown he is clearly on form and will now be aiming to carry his winning momentum into the final round of the series in Abu Dhabi before focusing on the 2022 Dakar next January.
“It’s been a super cool rally for me. I set out this morning hoping to take the win, but I made a small mistake about halfway through that only maybe cost me a minute, but it was enough on the shortened stage to lose out. Second place overall is great though and to win the world championship title early is amazing. The team have been great all year, so a big thank you to them. It’s time to relax now and really enjoy the moment.”
While it was Walkner and KTM winning the war that was the 2021 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, the battle victory went to the Monster Energy Honda Team’s new recruit Pablo Quintanilla. On the final day of the rally the Chilean saw off his rivals to claim both stage and race victories.
The 166-kilometre final special stage went quickly for most of the riders still in contention for victory at this Rallye du Maroc. David Castera, race director, had designed a stage with very little navigation. With little movement of wind, the dust hanging in the air accompanied the riders throughout the journey, making it impossible for riders starting from the rear to make up time.
Pablo Quintanilla started in a fine position from which to attack Mathias Walkner’s lead. The Monster Energy Honda Team rider held a sufficiently strong pace to allow him to fulfil this main mission and capture the final stage of the Rallye du Maroc and overall rally victory.
“I am very happy with the victory. It was a very difficult week and I want to thank the whole team for the great job they did. It was fantastic for us. Personally, I felt very comfortable, I was riding with great pace, with good navigation and that’s very good for my confidence. I am also very motivated for the next objective, which is the Dakar. We are going to take a short break, rest, recharge our batteries and then we will concentrate on the Dakar.”
Aussie youngster Daniel Sanders secured third overall for his, and GASGAS’, first ever podium result in the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship. Even with a minor setback on day three, the Aussie turned things around on the final two stages, upping his pace and rapidly closing in on the leader to complete the rally just over five minutes short of the win.
“The last day is done and what a week it’s been! Opening the final stage was pretty cool. After around 80 kilometers the navigation became a bit more tricky so I had to slow my pace to make sure I was on the right path. I actually had a small crash in the dunes but I was up quick and straight back on a decent rhythm. I’m really happy to have finished third on this stage after opening and overall it’s been a great week. To end it with a podium and secure the first podium result for GASGAS in the world championship is really cool. Now I’m looking forward to the next race in Abu Dhabi.”
Ricky Brabec was unable to whittle down the gap separating him from his rivals in the general standings and, in spite of finishing runner-up on the final day, narrowly missed out on a podium place to Daniel Sanders.
“I’m happy to finish another rally, it’s been good training for the Dakar. I’m also very excited for the Honda team to be on top of the podium. Unfortunately, we couldn’t have two Honda riders on the final podium. It takes a lot of guts to win a stage and it takes a lot of courage to open a stage: only three riders have opened this rally, and I think we opened the most difficult stages. I’m really looking forward to the Dakar and this was just training. I made a couple of mistakes and missed out on the podium on the last day, but at least we’ll get home safe and sound and get back to training to be ready for the Dakar.”
Rounding out a highly positive week in Morocco, Yamaha’s Adrien Van Beveren finished ninth overall on the final stage to secure his well-deserved fifth-place finish in the final classification. Confident with his navigation, his ability to open stages, and feeling at one with his Yamaha WR450F Rally, the Frenchman is excited for the future, especially with the 2022 Dakar Rally now very much on the horizon.
Adrien Van Beveren
“I’m really happy with my performance at the Rally Du Maroc. It ended today with another great day on the bike and I’m really confident for the future as my navigation and speed is right where it needs to be. The ultimate goal is to be ready for the Dakar and if I can take the feeling that I had this week to that race then I will be really happy. It’s been a great event here in Morocco. I opened much of stage four, showed good speed all week, and the hard work that the team and myself have done in the lead up to the race is something that we are proud of, and it really paid off.”
Both returning to competition following injury, KTM’s Toby Price and new signing Kevin Benavides used the Rallye du Maroc to rebuild their speed and confidence while also putting the all-new 2022 model KTM 450 RALLY through its paces in its competitive debut. Making changes and developing the bike as the event progressed, the two experienced Dakar champions were pleased with the performance of the machine and look forward to continuing their work at the next round in Abu Dhabi. Ultimately finishing seventh and 13th respectively, Benavides and Price were also joined in Morocco by teammate Sam Sunderland. Unfortunately, the British rider was forced to withdraw from the event on day four, due to illness.
“It’s good to get the last day done, and out of Morocco in one piece. I picked up a small penalty for speeding in today’s stage but all-in-all I can’t complain. It’s good to get the first one under the belt after being off the bike for so long and I’m looking forward to Abu Dhabi now to see what we can do there.”
“The last day went well for me, I kept to a solid pace and made sure I didn’t have any crashes. I was pleased with my riding and navigation, and it’s good to get the first race done with the team. I’ve been a little careful all through the rally because my shoulder has given me some pain, but on the whole it’s gone well. And now I’m looking forward to more time on the bike at Abu Dhabi.”
Most Rally competitiros will next be in action at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, held from November 6 to 12.
Stage 5 Rally du Maroc 2021
QUINTANILLA Pablo CHI Monster Energy Honda Team 1:39’12
BRABEC Ricky USA Monster Energy Honda Team +0’17
SANDERS Daniel AUS Gas Gas Factory Team +0’18
PRICE Toby AUS Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team 0’37+
BRANCH Ross BWA Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team +0’37
BARREDA Joan SPA Monster Energy Honda Team +1’05
HOWES Skyler USA Husqvarna Factory Rally Team +1’58
WALKNER Matthias AUT Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team +2’36
VAN BEVEREN Adrien FRA Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team +3’45
BÜHLER Sebastian POR Hero Motorsports Team Rally +4’51
Provisional Final Outright Overall Standings
Rally du Maroc 2021 after 5 of 5 stages
QUINTANILLA Pablo CHI Monster Energy Honda Team 16:26’51
WALKNER Matthias AUT Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team +1’59
SANDERS Daniel AUS Gas Gas Factory Team +5’27
BRABEC Ricky USA Monster Energy Honda Team +7’14
VAN BEVEREN Adrien FRA Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team +18’01
BENAVIDES Luciano ARG Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing +34’03
BENAVIDES Kevin ARG Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team +39’38
RODRIGUES Joaquim POR Hero Motorsports Team Rally +41’03
SHORT Andrew USA Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team +41’53
CORNEJO José Ignacio CHI Monster Energy Honda Team +45’19
BARREDA Joan SPA Monster Energy Honda Team +48’12
13. PRICE Toby AUS Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team +55’44
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