Promising start to Morocco Rally for KTM factory riders
Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Racing and KTM Rally Factory Racing Team riders made a very solid start to the Rally of Morocco on Monday. Australia’s Toby Price finished a close second behind Stage One winner Joan Barreda and Antoine Meo, fresh from winning the E2 World Championship on Saturday finished fourth fastest.
As this is the final stage of the FIM World Cross-Country Rallies Championship, the starting order was not defined by a prologue, but instead was in the reverse order of those now in contention for the world title. With the retirement of KTM’s five-times Dakar Rally winner Marc Coma mid season, Red Bull KTM’s Matthias Walkner, who won the Rally Race Sardegna and has 67 points, and KTM’s Pablo Quintanilla, who won the recent Atacama Rally and is two points behind him, are the two most likely title contenders. Both started Stage One from the back of the field and had to contend with very dusty conditions. Quintanilla, of Chile is well accustomed to the sand and still managed to finish fifth, trailing the leader by 5 minutes 40, while the Austrian Walkner finished in eighth place and is behind the lead time by 6.43.
Toby Price, whose job it was to open the track in the final kilometers, reported after the race: “It was a successful opening stage of the rally and I am happy to finish 1.41 behind Joan Barreda. Now its time to hook into some food and put my head into the Stage Two Road Book.” Price, third in the Dakar Rally 2015, is a multi desert racing champion at home in Australia.
It was a very special day out for Meo who, after successfully wrapping up the Enduro 2 title in France on Saturday, left the venue immediately to fly to Morocco for his first ever rally stage.
Antoine Meo: "We had a very positive day. These are very intense days for me, but also very exciting after winning the Enduro World Championship title last weekend. We will continue to push hard to finish the rally in the best way possible.”
At the half way point of the 330 km timed special both Meo and Price were less than 30 seconds behind Barreda, and at CP3 (244 km) Price trailed by just 0.02 seconds.
With the exception of Laia Sanz, who, like Meo, also flew in to join the KTM Rally Factory Team after securing the Women’s Enduro World Championship on Saturday, all the KTM factory riders finished in the top nine. Sanz was reported as having a technical issue at CP2 and is likely to incur a maximum time penalty when she arrives back.
Stefan Huber, Team Manager: “We had a very solid start for all of our riders and there were no main problems. We are yet to find out what issue Laia had with her bike. But as this rally is also an important part of our Dakar 2016 preparation, she will of course start in the other stages. It is important for all our riders to get as much time on on their bikes as possible.”
KTM riders, all competing on the KTM 450 RALLY bike, face around 2,000 km this week and the opening day was very technical, quite stony and included the first dunes. Stage One saw them travel in a loop around Zagora in the south of Morocco for a total of 463 km, of which 330 km was timed special. Tuesday’s Stage Two, the loop of Du Draa is 365 km of which 224 km is timed special.