Courtesy of KTM Racing
Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Racing riders have completed a difficult and shortened stage two of the 2017 OiLibya Rally of Morocco. The day should have included the longest single special stage of the rally at 364.5km, however due to higher than average rainfall over recent days the rivers along the route were found to be impassable and the day was cut short at checkpoint one.
Stage two of the OiLibya Rally proved to be a tough day for the KTM riders. After their excellent results from stage one, Matthias Walkner and Sam Sunderland set off second and third respectively and made good time during the first 50km of the stage.
On reaching the first of the swollen rivers Sunderland and Walkner realised crossing them would be treacherous. With no riders to follow, Walkner made it safely across while unfortunately Sunderland chose a different route and submerged his bike. Walkner was able to carry on, but Sunderland was forced to retire due to the water contaminating his fuel.
It was Walkner who reached the next river first and decided not to attempt to cross it. It was the correct decision as the stage was soon neutralised at the previous checkpoint.
Walkner: “That felt like a really long day even though we only covered about 170km. The heavy rain has affected the tracks quite a lot and made the rivers extremely difficult. At km40 I saw that Quintanilla had stopped in the water, so I knew I had to be very careful. I managed to make it across and carry on, but when I reached km170 there was another crossing and I decided not to attempt it. As the other riders arrived, some tried to make it across but it was no good.
“It’s a shame because I don’t believe that the results of a rally like this should be decided on who is lucky or not through a river crossing. I’ll focus on tomorrow now and hopefully I can have a trouble-free day.”
Laia Sanz and Antoine Meo, arrived later at the crossing, and were able to safely make their way across and reach the next checkpoint. Sanz especially showed impressive pace, feeling comfortable on her KTM 450 RALLY she posted one of fastest times to CP1.
Sanz: “Today was an unusual day because they cut the stage due to the water being too high. I was lucky, when I arrived at the first river there were some riders already stuck so I could choose a better line to cross. Apart from that I am happy with the day – I was riding well, didn’t get lost and my pace was good.”
Antoine Meo, despite the issues with the river crossing, also had a good day.
Meo: “I am happy, it was a good experience today. The river crossing was incredibly difficult to get across safely and without any problems – I was fortunate that I wasn’t one of the first riders to attempt it. The road book was missing a few details but generally my day went well and I’m looking forward to tomorrow now.”
Luciano Benavides continued his learning experience on his KTM 450 RALLY, gaining invaluable knowledge from today’s tricky stage.
Benavides: “My day went much better than yesterday, I had a lot more confidence on the bike and didn’t make any mistakes. Tomorrow will be a long day so I need to keep up this form and hopefully get a good result.”
Sam Sunderland unfortunately saw his hopes of claiming the 2017 FIM Cross-Country Rallies Championship title take a severe knock today. The Brit was philosophical but ultimately disappointed after being forced to retire.
Sunderland: “I’m really disappointed today. Up to around 45km everything was great, the bike felt good and I was making good time. We got to the river and I followed the road book to the crossing, but although I took it as carefully as I could the bike just disappeared from beneath me. I ended up drowning the engine and getting water in the fuel.
“Although I got going again after about 45 minutes, I was forced to retire due to the fuel being ruined. It’s so frustrating that the route wasn’t checked properly after all the rain, and it certainly disadvantaged the leaders today. My focus now has to be the Dakar at the beginning of next year, I’ll work on my navigation and continue testing of the new bike and hopefully we can come back stronger in January.”
Stage three of the 2017 OiLibya Rally of Morocco includes the longest timed special at 577.9km. The route will take the riders from Erfoud, through a wide variety of terrain including dunes, river beds and open plateaus, to the bivouac at the desert camp of Erg Lihoudi.