Comprising two timed specials, day one of the 2018 Rally du Maroc proved to be more of a challenge to all riders than anticipated. Heavy rain on the lead up to the event had caused a lot of the tracks to be far more difficult to follow than expected and as such accurate navigation was important to secure a top stage result. Featuring a hard-pack surface littered with small rocks and stones that made for very slippery riding conditions, stage one was a real test for both riders and machines.

Toby Price: “I’ll keep pushing and see where we end up.”

Following his Prologue victory, Toby Price had first pick of today’s start positions and chose to set off as the 15th rider away on the day’s timed special. Catching the riders in front throughout the two-part stage, Price ultimately finished over two-and-a-half minutes ahead of his second-placed teammate. Earning himself the task of opening Saturday’s Stage Two, the Australian will be aiming to keep to a strong pace and lose the minimum of time to the chasing riders.

Toby Price: “I made a few little minor mistakes today but I’m happy overall with how I rode. I had another issue with the GPS where it said I was missing a waypoint, but there was no possible way to be off-track there as the route took us right next to a big concrete canal that was shown in the road book and we were in the speed zone too. Things like that can be a little bit confusing, but all-in-all everything went well. I’ll open tomorrow’s stage so there’s a good chance of losing some time, but I’ll keep pushing and see where we end up.”

Matthias Walkner: “It takes a while to get used to the hard-pack tracks and rocks here in Morocco.”

Matthias Walkner, after a steady start to the stage, soon found a good pace and was able to maintain that speed to the finish and cross the line as runner-up. Taking care to minimise mistakes on the navigationally-challenging stage, Walkner adapted his style to suit the slippery conditions and will be keen to claim another strong result on tomorrow’s 317-kilometre Stage Two.

Matthias Walkner: “I didn’t feel so good this morning, I was a little bit tired and so to take second on today’s stage is great. We have been riding a lot of sand dunes in the last couple of races so it takes a while to get used to the hard-pack tracks and rocks here in Morocco. I started to find my rhythm about 40 or 50 kilometres into the stage and felt better after that. Navigation was tricky, but it seems everyone had similar issues so I am happy with how the day went today.”

Sam Sunderland: “That was a lot tougher than we thought.”

Steadily increasing his speed onboard his KTM 450 RALLY, Sam Sunderland rode a strong stage to finish in an impressive third place overall. The 2017 Dakar Champion is keen to do well at the rally but is also aware of the need to conserve himself for the 2019 Dakar in just three months’ time.

Sam Sunderland: “That was a lot tougher than we thought – the first part of the stage was really rough and very physical. Some of the guys in front got a bit lost so I was able to get some time back on them. Third fastest behind Toby and Matthias is good, especially as I am still getting back up to speed after my injury. The bike feels perfect and I’m looking forward to the days to come.”

Luciano Benavides: “Hopefully I can regain some time on the others.”

Starting the stage well, KTM Factory Racing team junior Luciano Benavides lost time after choosing to stay with his brother who had suffered a fall on the second special. The young Argentinian successfully completed the stage however and will regroup for Saturday’s Stage Two.

Luciano Benavides: “It was a tough day for me today. I started off well and was pleased with the bike and my riding. I did lose some time when I got lost, but I was able to quickly find my way again and get back on track. Unfortunately, I came across my brother who had crashed and hurt himself, so I stayed with him for a while to wait for assistance. After that I rode back to the finish at a steady pace to make sure I didn’t make any mistakes myself. There are four more days left to race, so I need to focus and hopefully I can regain some time on the others.”

Saturday’s Stage Two of the Rally du Maroc will see riders complete a 317-kilometre loop close to the Saharan town of Erfoud. The stage includes a 281-kilometre timed special – the second longest of the rally. (source: red bull ktm factory racing)

Provisional Standings – 2018 Rally du Maroc after 1 of 5 stages
1. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 2:22:05
2. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 2:25:03 +2:58
3. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 2:28:31 +6:26
4. Paulo Goncalves (PRT), Honda, 2:31:13 +9:08
5. Ricky Brabec (USA), Honda, 2:35:39 +13:34

STORY: Stage Two Win For Walkner in Morocco
STORY: Prologue Win For Toby Price

LINK: Rally du Maroc

photos (c) Rally Zone