The four-man Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team have successfully completed the first stage of the 2021 Rallye du Maroc. Matthias Walkner finished as top KTM, posting the fourth quickest time on the 288-kilometer timed special.
Round four of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship opened with a short 10-kilometer Prologue to determine the start order for Saturday’s stage one. With riders opting for strategy rather than out-an-out speed, many eased off to ensure a mid-pack result, so as not to open today’s stage. At 441 kilometers, the shortest of the event, stage one included a timed special of 288 kilometers, raced against the clock. Opening with a fast section of tracks, the route challenged competitors with 30 kilometers of dunes before returning to the sandy and stony pistes on the way to the finish.
Setting off ninth into the day’s stage, championship leader Matthias Walkner rode a solid special, slowly building his pace as the day progressed. A dust storm mid-stage that affected most riders made navigation especially tricky, but Walkner was able to skillfully make it through without losing too many minutes to his rivals. Completing the stage in fourth, the Austrian will be aiming to chase down the three riders ahead of him on Sunday’s stage two.
Matthias Walkner: “Finally the first day is done and it felt super-long after such a long break from racing. Especially first thing in the morning, everything felt really, really fast like playing a computer game. It took a little while to find my focus, but then things started to come together, and I was able to push a little harder. We had a huge sandstorm near the beginning of the stage that reduced visibility to around 20 meters and that made the navigation even tougher. I’m happy with my stage, but there are still four long days to go, but so far, everything is good.”
Making his competitive debut with the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team, Kevin Benavides rode a strong stage, taking care to minimize any mistakes. The reigning Dakar Rally Champion completed the 288-kilometer timed special in 10th place, and with his confidence on the bike building, the Argentinian star is looking forward to tomorrow and the remainder of the race.
Kevin Benavides: “Today went well for me, I made a couple of small mistakes early on and I didn’t feel too comfortable pushing too much in all the dust, but after that, when things cleared, I was able to increase my speed towards the end. Riding the new bike was good, and although my result isn’t the best, I’m very happy with how I managed the stage and how things felt. Tomorrow, I’ll continue the same and hopefully we can have another good day.”
Despite issues with his navigation equipment, Sam Sunderland was able to complete stage one in a commendable 14th place. Showing strong pace up to the waypoint at kilometer 128, but with a malfunctioning GPS, it was hard for the Brit to push as hard as he wanted to. However, safely bringing his 2022 KTM 450 RALLY home inside the top 15, Sam will enjoy a highly advantageous start position for stage two.
Sam Sunderland: “It has been a little bit frustrating out there today, I started off really excited to get out on the new bike and put in some angry kilometers. And at first, things were going really well. In the middle of the dunes all my navigation equipment stopped working and it left me a bit stuck. I had no compass heading and no kilometer marker, and with the sandstorm as well it was really difficult to follow the lines in the sand. As far as the bike and myself go, it was all good, but then every time I managed to get in a good rhythm, the organizers' equipment would switch off. Still a long way to go, so I’m hoping for a better day tomorrow.”
Posting the second fastest time on Friday’s Prologue meant Toby Price was soon out front today, opening the stage. First to hit the sandstorm that caused issues for many riders, Price ended up losing a large amount of time after becoming lost and struggling to find his way back on track. Despite the set-back the twice Dakar Champion was pleased with how he rode, and his new KTM 450 RALLY, and now looks to continue evaluating the bike as the rally continues.
Toby Price: “It was not a great day for me today. After my result in the Prologue yesterday, I soon found myself opening the stage. From around kilometer 30 to around 120 it was all fine, but then we hit the dust storm and that got pretty bad. Some of the other boys caught up and we were riding back and forth trying to find the piste. I got lost coming out of a riverbed and it ended up costing me around 40 minutes or so. So yeah, it’s been a rough day, and not the way I wanted to start the Morocco rally, but there are still four more days to go, so we’ll keep testing the new bike and hopefully get some better results.”
Sunday’s stage two of the 2021 Rallye du Maroc will cover a total of 609.22 kilometers and include a timed special of 334.66 kilometers.
Provisional Results – Stage 1 Rally du Maroc 2021
1. Joan Barreda (ESP), Honda, 2:58:53
2. Ricky Brabec (USA), Honda, 3:00:03
3. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Honda, 3:01:52
4. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 3:05:43
5. Daniel Sanders (AUS), GASGAS, 3:06:24
10. Kevin Benavides (ARG), KTM, 3:12:33
14. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 3:17:41
25. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 3:46:46
Provisional Standings – Rally du Maroc 2021 after 1 of 5 stages
1. Joan Barreda (ESP), Honda, 3:25:57
2. Ricky Brabec (USA), Honda, 3:26:51
3. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Honda, 3:29:08
4. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 3:31:39
5. Daniel Sanders (AUS), GASGAS, 3:32:56
11. Kevin Benavides (ARG), KTM, 3:38:53
15. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 3:43:45
25. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 4:11:54