Toby Price wins opening stage of Morocco Rally

Toby Price was also the winner in Sunday’s 7-km super special on his KTM 450 Rally. The top 10 riders were able to choose their preferred starting positions for the first stage on Monday. Price and Sunderland opted to go out at 11-12, leaving the responsibility of opening the track and the first navigation challenges to the riders in front.

Morocco Rally 2016 - Toby Price
Morocco Rally 2016 – Toby Price

Faced with 240 km on the bikes, which included two timed specials of 70 and 50 km, Price said the opener, the so-called Seaside Stage, was more of a sprint.

Price: “Stage one was good and there was a couple of tricky bits and the dust made it a bit difficult when we caught some riders in front. But we got through well and I only made a couple of small errors with the navigation. But I think it was more to do with the dust and trying to keep my eyes on the road instead of looking at the road book.”

Morocco Rally 2016 - Toby Price
Morocco Rally 2016 – Toby Price

Things get serious tomorrow when riders face the first half of a marathon stage where they will overnight in the desert and are not permitted any mechanical support from their teams.

Price: “It’s going o be difficult and we’re going to make sure we look after the bike and the tires, and on day three we can charge a bit harder. We’ll just take it nice and easy and make sure we finish in one piece and start day three feeling healthy and with a good bike.”

Morocco Rally 2016 - Toby Price
Morocco Rally 2016 – Toby Price

The best of the Honda CRF450 Rally riders was young Argentine rider Kevin Benavides, who took runner-up spot on the day, a minute adrift of leader Toby Price.

Kevin Benavides – “The first stage is over. I felt great on the bike and I picked things up as the stage went on and felt better and better as the kilometres went by. The bike was perfect. It was a good first stage with a fast pace and now we are focusing on what is coming up over the next few days, above all tomorrow which is the marathon stage.”

KTM’s Sam Sunderland was also satisfied with his opening day, although he said it had been a tough one with lots of stony areas and speed zones. “Today was pretty good. I started in 12th and that was my decision after the prologue. I had Toby in front of me and I knew I would have a bit of clean air because he would be pushing hard. We both caught the Yamaha rider (de Soultrait) after only a few kilometers and I caught his dust a bit and made a small navigational error. When you have to stop for a speed zone it breaks your rhythm. It can be 3-4 km at 30 km/h, so that side of it was tough.”

Morocco Rally 2016 - Sam Sunderland
Morocco Rally 2016 – Sam Sunderland

Austria’s Matthias Walkner, the third member of the KTM factory team in Morocco, and who was last year’s world championship, was ninth, but only 3:24 minutes off the winning pace. Walkner is easing himself back into competition and gaining in confidence after a crash and a long injury pause during the 2016 Dakar Rally in January.

Morocco Rally 2016 - Matthias Walkner
Morocco Rally 2016 – Matthias Walkner

Walkner said he got lost a couple of times in the opening stage but also confirmed he was managing to regain the rally speed. “I feel I’m improving my speed a lot. For sure it’s not like it was before my crash (Dakar) but I’m happy because I feel better with the bike. Now I have to be more focused on the navigation. We have two long days for the marathon stage and I will try to be careful, because if we have problems we have to fix it ourselves and this takes time and energy. I will try to stay focused and enjoy these two days.”

Morocco Rally 2016 - Matthias Walkner
Morocco Rally 2016 – Matthias Walkner

Honda’s Ricky Brabec took advantage of his starting position to post a fourth place. The American was twenty-five seconds quicker than Portuguese teammate Paulo Gonçalves – fifth overall after the aggregate of today’s two specials and the super-special of yesterday in Agadir.

Ricky Brabec – “Here we are at the first stage of the Morocco Rally. It was a good day with fast tracks and a little bit sandy. It was pretty simple navigation and the weather was perfect. We have four more days to go and tomorrow there is the marathon, so let’s see what we can do over the next few days and hopefully we can all stay close together like today.”

Morocco Rally 2016 - Ricky Brabec
Morocco Rally 2016 – Ricky Brabec

Paulo Goncalves – “Today we started the Morocco Rally with quite a good stage. There was a nice start in the sand, then rocky track, before moving on to narrow tracks with a bit of navigation. I’m happy with the pace which went well today. The bike didn’t give any problems and we will really get down to the hard work in tomorrow’s stage which will be the marathon stage. We have to continue to do the best that we possibly can in the race.”

Morocco Rally 2016 - Paulo Goncalves
Morocco Rally 2016 – Paulo Goncalves

The Morocco Rally is over five stages and a distance of 1882 km of which 1317 km are under the clock. What is at stake is the world championship title, so there is a lot to play for. Going into the rally, Sunderland was second in the points, trailing the leader Pablo Quintanilla by 11 points. Price, the Dakar Rally champion in 2016 and who was hampered in one round through injury, is third in the points. The winner of the Morocco Rally stands to pick up another 25 points.

Laia Sanz, the fourth KTM factory rider in the squad is not contesting the Morocco Rally because she is competing at the coming ISDE International Six Day Enduro, which is being hosted by her home country Spain.

Morocco Rally 2016 - KTM Bivouac
Morocco Rally 2016 – KTM Bivouac

Stage Two on Tuesday called “From Ocean to Dunes” is 554 km, of which 291 are timed special. 

Provisional Standings after Stage One – Morocco Rally 2016

1 PRICE Toby AUS KTM Factory Racing Team KTM 1:31’20
2 BENAVIDES Kevin ARG Team HRC Honda +1’06
3 SUNDERLAND Sam GBR Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team KTM +1’34
4 BRABEC Ricky USA Team HRC Honda +2’53
5 GONCALVES Paulo POR Team HRC Honda +3’18
6 WALKNER Matthias AUT KTM Factory Racing Team KTM +4’26
7 QUINTANILLA Pablo CHI Husqvarna Factory Rally Team Husqvarna +5’03
8 PEDRERO Joan SPA Sherco TVS Rally Factory Sherco +5’06
9 BOTTURI Alessandro ITA Yamaha Motor Europe Yamaha +5’16
10 DE SOULTRAIT Xavier FRA Yamaha Racing Yamaha +5’55
11 RODRIGUES Helder POR Yamaha Motor Europe Yamaha +6’26
12 SVITKO Stefan SLO Slovnaft Team KTM +6’32
13 VAN BEVEREN Adrien FRA Yamaha Motor Europe Yamaha +6’41
14 METGE Adrien FRA Sherco TVS Rally Factory Sherco +8’54
15 RENET Pierre-Alexandre FRA Husqvarna Factory Rally Team Husqvarna +10’30