Win for Paulo Gonçalves and a one-two for Team HRC in Morocco Rally third stage

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Honda CRF450 RALLY riders Paulo Gonçalves and Joan Barreda pulled off an excellent double in the third stage of the OiLibya Morocco Rally which was fought out in the M’hamid loop. The Spanish ace retakes the top of the overall leaderboard.

Team HRC have made it to the halfway stage of the rally in upbeat mood after clinching the top two finishing spots, a move that also sees the team back at the head of the overall standings.

The M’hamid desert region to the south of Zagora, bore witness to a battle in the OiLibya Morocco Rally from which the Honda CRF450 RALLY crew emerged victorious. Paulo Gonçalves was the fastest over the 274 kilometre special stage. The Portuguese rider, forging a cracking pace, was clearly coming to grips with the bike in a performance which shaved various minutes off the rivals ahead in the general rankings.

Joan Barreda joined team-mate Gonçalves on the stage podium as he reinstates himself at the head of the overall table with a near four-minute surplus over the closest rival. The forthcoming stages will prove vital for the Spaniard’s aspirations.

Italian Paolo Ceci started the third day from back positions which meant having to deal with a dust cloud throughout the early part of the timed section and therefore he was unable to take maximum advantage of the Honda CRF450 RALLY. Yesterday, race organisers had given back the ten-minutes which Ceci lost after stopping to aid a rider involved in an accident.

A magnificent performance from Argentinean Kevin Benavides in M’hamid who finished the stage in sixth position. As a result Benavides, Honda South America Rally Team rider, becomes the race’s top debutant and rises to sixth overall place.

Jean Azevedo seemed to be coming to terms with the new bike over all kinds of varied terrain: track, sand, dunes and even a rock-filled final stretch and moves up to thirteenth place in the general standings.

Joan Barreda: “Today was a day where we started from behind. The objective was to catch up with the riders ahead. They set a very fast pace all day long, but thanks to our concentration we were able to make it, in other words: mission accomplished.”

Paulo Goncalves: “Finally, today I had a stage without any mistakes. I set out to attack, I made up some time and won the stage. Tomorrow will be another day, a very important one, as I will be opening the track which is always a good thing. I will do my best, as always, to get the best possible result, but let’s not forget that the most important thing here is to fine-tune everything, as this is the last test before the Dakar, so we can’t fall and pick up injuries as we are so close to the Dakar and there wouldn’t be time to recover.”

Paolo Ceci: “It was a good stage today, very nice and I liked it a lot. There were a lot of dunes and a good deal of navigation in the first and last parts. I didn’t make any mistakes and I made it through to the end. I’m pleased. It was a pity at the start because there was so much dust and I had to slow down as I couldn’t see anything. The bike is going like a dream and I’m getting used to it. I really happy for out team-mate’s win. Let’s keep battling like that.”

Kevin Benavides: “It was a very difficult stage with a lot of sand. 70% sand and many dunes and some complicated navigation at the beginning and end. There were a lot of parallel tracks which could easily confuse you so we had to stay really focused. Luckily, everything went well without any falls or bad mistakes. I’m feeling better and better on the bike with some great sensations.”

Jean Azevedo: “Today was a day with a lot more sand than on previous days. For me it has been great to race here with the new bike. I felt a lot better. The following part of the stage was a lot rockier, but the day was a calm and positive one.”

OiLibya Rally