The 2021 Rally du Maroc has reached its midway point with Ricky Brabec claiming the stage win ahead of Sebastian Buhler and Andrew Short and elevating himself into the overall lead.
Once again, a lengthy, high-speed, full stage with little navigation, although the sudden changes in pace and the lightning speed needed to make correct decisions led several riders to make mistakes.
At last night’s briefing, David Castera, the Rally du Maroc director had revealed what riders could expect from this third stage: fast tracks, some stone-filled, but others sandy and undulating which would really give the bikes the chance to let rip.
This time around, there were fewer dunes that were smaller in size and presented no major difficulties apart from two short stretches of broken up dunes at kilometres 149 and 192. Nevertheless, navigation proved tricky for some of the riders and the 341-kilometre timed special stage caused some reshuffles in the general standings.
American Ricky Brabec was the leading protagonist of the day. The Monster Energy Honda Team rider, with some excellent navigation, set a white-knuckle pace that no other rider was able to match. Brabec not only won the stage but also snatched the overall Rally du Maroc lead with a ten-and-a-half minute advantage over the nearest second-placed rider, team-mate Pablo Quintanilla.
“I started sixth today, not a bad starting position, although there was a lot of dust. Kevin was in front of me and I could see him. Yesterday we adjusted the handlebars, but I didn’t feel comfortable, but I had to keep going,” Brabec explained.
“From the refueling until the finish, I did my best but unfortunately my team-mates made a few mistakes, as Mathias did. I managed to find the way because I was going slow at that moment. I saw the line where we had to leave the river, but there were also many other tracks there. My gut instinct told me and I followed it. I was riding alone for the final 60 kilometres, with no references. It was a good day, but there are still two more to go. We have to stay focused and keep pushing.”
Starting the Stage in 17th position, Sebastian Buhler was on the pace immediately. Trialing new components on his bike in preparation for Dakar ‘22, he was within the Top 3 at every checkpoint, eventually finishing in second place.
“Very happy with the stage today,” Buhler said. “It was hard and fast with some dangers, but I felt good on the bike and was able to get into a good rhythm. We had some problems in Stage 2 with some of the parts that we were testing, but thanks to the team, who worked hard and found a solution.”
Andrew Short had endured a challenging start to the Rallye du Maroc. Overcoming a crash on stage one and mediocre result on day two, The American put those difficult days behind him to secure a highly impressive third-place finish on stage three. With his improved speed and navigation everything came together for Short on day three and with his excellent result, now moves into the overall provisional top 10.
“Today was much better for me,” Short said. “After a difficult start to the rally, my speed and navigation was right where it needed to be today and I’m happy with my riding. My bike was working great all day and overall, everything went well, and this result is a real confidence booster. I’m excited for tomorrow and hope to be up front once again.”
Adrien Van Beveren was also in form on stage three to complete the technical special as the fourth fastest rider. Applying a clear strategy to minimise any mistakes, the Frenchman’s overall pace and superior navigational skills ensured he passed each waypoint as one of the leading riders. Van Beveren’s excellent result now moves him up to fifth in the overall provisional classification.
“A really good day for me and I focused on my rhythm and navigation, and it paid off,” Van Beveren said. “My overall speed is good and I’m happy with my pace. I was able to complete the stage without any mistakes which I’m really happy with and where the navigation became tricky, I slowed down, took my time, and this meant that I went the right way each time. Towards the end I caught some riders and rode in their dust for maybe 30 kilometres but overall, I’m really happy with my performance today.”
Stage two winner and leader going into the stage Matthias Walkner set out to lead the riders from start to finish – a task he accomplished despite being the first to encounter a difficult road book note in the latter kilometers of the stage. Losing time to some of his rivals, Walkner completed the stage in 13th, and dropped fourth in the provisional rally standings.
Finishing just over one minute ahead of teammate Walkner, Australian Toby Price showed strong pace. Falling foul of the same note that caught out many riders, Toby was able to get back on track relatively quickly to complete the stage 11th fastest.
“Day three has gone well, we’re not trying to do anything too crazy, just get some good race time on the bike,” Price explained. “Yeah, we all had a little issue there later on after the refueling, the drawing on the road book just didn’t seem quite right and it caught a lot of the guys out. But on a positive note, we’re making good progress on the new bike, getting really comfortable on it, and definitely going in the right direction. The plan is to stay healthy and keep doing what we’re doing.”
After such a promising start a couple of minor navigational errors by Daniel Sanders on stage three resulted in a lowly, by his standards, 15th place finish. Nevertheless, by beginning the rally with two impressive stage times, the Australian only loses one spot in the provisional rally classification with an overall podium result still very much on the cards.
“It’s been a really tough day today,” Sanders reflected. “Early on, about 30 kilometers in, I made a mistake with my navigation, so I then had to ride at my limit for the rest of the stage to make up for lost time. I think I lost around nine minutes there which was quite frustrating. After the refueling station at 220 kilometers I was then into a pretty difficult navigation area and the lines from the guys in front were all over the place. There were some tricky notes in the roadbook, and it just caught me out. It was a learning day for sure today and in a way, it’s good to experience something like this to make me a better rider in the future and I definitely learned from it. Two days to go now and I’m looking forward to getting back up the sharp end tomorrow.”
Tomorrow’s penultimate stage sends riders back into the sand dunes and with a very favourable starting position of 15th, Sanders can follow in the wheel tracks of those ahead and maybe throw a little caution to the wind. With the special estimated to cover over 367 kilometres, it’s going to be an intense day of racing and at the conclusion, we’re expecting Daniel to be up at the sharp end of the timesheets.
Stage 3 Results
|1||BRABEC Ricky||USA||Monster Energy Honda Team||Honda||3:30’32|
|2||BÜHLER Sebastian||POR||Hero Motorsports Team Rally||Hero||+2’04|
|3||SHORT Andrew||USA||Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team||Yamaha||+5’24|
|4||VAN BEVEREN Adrien||FRA||Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team||Yamaha||+5’46|
|5||CAIMI Franco||ARG||Hero Motorsports Team Rally||Hero||+6’12|
|6||BENAVIDES Luciano||ARG||Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing||Husqvarna||+8’40|
|7||SANTOLINO Lorenzo||SPA||Sherco TVS Rally Factory||Sherco||+10’35|
|8||RODRIGUES Joaquim||POR||Hero Motorsports Team Rally||Hero||+11’01|
|9||QUINTANILLA Pablo||CHI||Monster Energy Honda Team||Honda||+11’08|
|10||PRICE Toby||AUS||Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team||KTM||+11’49|
|11||SUNDERLAND Sam||GBR||Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team||KTM||+12’33|
|12||WALKNER Matthias||AUT||Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team||KTM||+13’09|
|13||CORNEJO José Ignacio||CHI||Monster Energy Honda Team||Honda||+13’46|
|14||SANDERS Daniel||AUS||Gas Gas Factory Team||Gas Gas||+14’34|
Provisional Standings After Stage 3
|1||BRABEC Ricky||USA||Monster Energy Honda Team||Honda||10:43’43|
|2||QUINTANILLA Pablo||CHI||Monster Energy Honda Team||Honda||+10’27|
|3||WALKNER Matthias||AUT||Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team||KTM||+12’09|
|4||VAN BEVEREN Adrien||FRA||Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team||Yamaha||+17’33|
|5||SANDERS Daniel||AUS||Gas Gas Factory Team||Gas Gas||+18’31|
|6||CORNEJO José Ignacio||CHI||Monster Energy Honda Team||Honda||+18’43|
|7||BENAVIDES Luciano||ARG||Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing||Husqvarna||+26’21|
|8||SUNDERLAND Sam||GBR||Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team||KTM||+30’42|
|9||SHORT Andrew||USA||Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team||Yamaha||+32’06|
|10||BARREDA Joan||SPA||Monster Energy Honda Team||Honda||+54’42|