Rallye

Ross Branch Heads The Leaderboard After Rallye Du Maroc Stage 1

Author: Garry Morrow

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Ross Branch finished third in yesterday’s prologue and went two better on the opening stage to be the fastest man on stage.

At the commencement of the fifth and final round of the FIM World Rally-Raid Championship, the Rallye Du Maroc, Ross Branch demonstrated his prowess by seizing the top position on the leaderboard on the opening day.

The rigorous first stage, spanning a formidable 710 kilometers, was an arduous test for all competitors. Commencing from Agadir, a lengthy liaison led the riders to the commencement of a 314-kilometer timed special. This special was a challenging amalgamation of rocky trails, dunes, and intricate sandy pistes that ultimately culminated at Zagora. Under the scorching sun, competitors endured an exhausting day of rally-raid action.

Ross Branch displayed his mastery, finishing just over a minute ahead of Pablo Quintanilla.

After his victory, he shared, “It was truly exhilarating to be back on my Hero 450 Rally. The 19-kilometer prologue was slightly longer than usual, but I relished the challenge. The stage predominantly featured sandy terrain with numerous twists and turns, and it seemed like everyone was pushing their limits. My sincere thanks go out to the entire Hero team for their unwavering dedication. I’m delighted to be here and eagerly anticipate the exciting week ahead.”

Pablo Quintanilla was second fastest while he has now lost two teammates in Skyler Howes and Ricky Brabec.

Pablo Quintanilla also delivered a stellar performance, securing second place in the stage and propelling himself to second place in the overall rankings. Unfortunately, his teammate Ricky Brabec, who had a strong start during the prologue, encountered fuel issues and had to withdraw from the race, joining teammate Skyler Howes who withdrew after crashing in the prologue.

Reflecting on a demanding day, Quintanilla commented, “Today was a truly gruelling and extended ordeal. We embarked on our journey early in the morning, traversing long liaisons on the road. The stage presented an assortment of challenges, from high-speed sections with rocky obstacles to increasingly complex navigation after refuelling. We conquered dunes, and navigated riverbeds – it was an extensive and taxing stage. Despite the constant demand for focus, I believe I maintained a steady rhythm, which is crucial in the face of diverse terrains and intricate navigation. I’m well-positioned for the challenges that lie ahead in stage two.”

Matthias Walkner maintained a strong pace, overcoming a variety of terrains, ultimately securing the third-best stage result. Photo: Ingine Creators

Matthias Walkner, who embarked as the tenth rider into the special, demonstrated remarkable consistency throughout the demanding stage. He maintained a strong pace, overcoming a variety of terrains, ultimately securing the third-best stage result. His performance positioned him well to defend his third place in the provisional standings and pursue the riders ahead of him.

Walkner shared his thoughts, stating, “Honestly, today was an incredibly tough day. I’m not sure if it’s because I haven’t raced for a while, but it certainly felt that way. Our day began early, followed by an extensive road section. The special itself was in line with Morocco’s tradition of diverse terrain, with the initial portion being particularly challenging due to the presence of stone-covered tracks. However, I felt I had a good day on the bike, maintaining a strong pace across a range of ground types. I’m now in a favourable position to take on the remainder of the race. Given that it’s only the first day, I anticipate more demanding stages ahead, so I’ll take it one day at a time and see where I stand at the finish.”

Photo of Luciano Benavides at the 2023 Rallye du Maroc
Championship leader Luciano Benavides is off to a solid start with third place on the opening stage.

Luciano Benavides delivered a commendable performance, capitalising on the difficulties faced by some of the front runners in the final kilometers. The championship leader coming into the round climbed several positions to secure a fourth-place finish. Combined with his result from the event’s short opening prologue, Benavides currently occupies fifth place overall, trailing the provisional race leader Ross Branch by seven and a half minutes.

Benavides shared his perspective, echoing Quintanilla’s sentiment, “It’s been an incredibly tough and lengthy day today. We commenced our journey early in the morning, followed by a lengthy liaison on the roads. The stage encompassed a myriad of challenges, from a fast and stony start to more intricate navigation after refueling. We tackled dunes and riverbeds, making it a protracted and demanding stage. I believe I executed well, avoiding major errors despite the constant demand for unwavering focus. I established a strong rhythm, a critical aspect when dealing with diverse terrains and intricate navigation. I’m in a promising position for stage two.”

Toby Price declared the opening stage a decent start but he also has to contend with a sore throat after hitting a fence a few days ago in his effort to overcome Luciano Benavides and win the 2023 title. Photo: Ingine Creators

Australian Toby Price, who was the fourth quickest in the rally’s opening prologue, decided to start seventh. He steadily moved up to fifth place in the rankings and successfully maintained his position throughout the stage. Price now resides in fourth place overall, which grants him a favourable starting position for the upcoming 396-kilometer stage two on Sunday.

Price expressed his satisfaction, saying, “Today was a decent day for me. We initiated with a substantial liaison, followed by the special stage. The initial segment was quite rugged and rocky, with manageable navigation. However, after refuelling, it became more challenging, with a section of dunes and riverbeds that demanded unwavering focus to stay on the correct path. All in all, I had a good day. The rally is far from over, and my overall position is favourable, so I’m eager to see what lies ahead.”

The anticipation now builds for stage two, set to unfold on a circuit with both start and finish lines in Zagora. This leg will entail a 100-kilometre liaison followed by a 296-kilometre Special Stage that promises a menu similar to the rigorous challenges presented today, featuring gravel tracks, dirt roads, sand, and dunes.

Prologue winner Tosha Schareina had a bad end to the day after missing a waypoint and getting lost near the end after running in the top order all stage. The result was a loss of 18 minutes and tenth place.

2023 Rallye du Maroc – Stage 1 Provisional Classification
1 Ross Branch (Hero) 3:13:17
2 Pablo Quintanilla (Honda) 3:14:58
3 Matthias Walkner (KTM) 3:17:35
4 Luciano Benavides (Husqvarna) 3:19:00
5 Toby Price (KTM) 3:19:59
6 Lorenzo Santolino (Sherco) 3:21:58

2023 Rallye du Maroc – Provisional Overall Classification [After Stage 1]
1 Ross Branch (Hero) 4:08:42
2 Pablo Quintanilla (Honda) 4:11:23
3 Matthias Walkner (KTM) 4:14:20
4 Toby Price (KTM) 4:16:04
5 Luciano Benavides (Husqvarna) 4:16:15
6 Lorenzo Santolino (Sherco) 4:19:43

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