A sand storm on the dunes signalled the restart of the rally-raid season as the opening long stage of Rallye du Maroc offered up drama from start to finish. As the clock counts down towards the 2022 Dakar Rally there are plenty of off-road heavyweights in Morocco this week looking to pick up the pace.
Few will be happier with their day’s work on the opening desert stage of this Rallye du Maroc than Nasser Al-Attiyah. The Qatari and his French co-driver Mathieu Baumel are three-time winners of the rally and have started as they mean to go on at this edition.
Al-Attiyah and Baumel recorded a stage win on the 288km special that included a 30km stretch of dunes. The duo have given their Toyota Hilux a lead of over four minutes at the head of the car race, a lead they will be looking to stretch over the next four days.
“Today was a good day for us. We didn’t have any problems. We started as the tenth car on the road so it was a little bit dusty, but this worked out OK for us.” – Nasser Al-Attiyah
Also in the hunt for a car race podium finish is Swede Mattias Ekström at the wheel of a four-wheel drive MINI JCW Rally. The news was not so good for MINI JCW Buggy driver Kuba Przygonski as the Pole suffered significant time losses on Saturday’s stage.
In the bike race there was a positive first stage for Matthias Walkner of Red Bull KTM Factory Racing. Walkner currently leads the 2021 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship and a solid ride on Saturday has given the Austrian biker a platform to score further points in Morocco.
“After such a long break from riding this type of rally it felt super fast, especially in the morning. Then at the end I was felling better and better.” – Matthias Walkner
Walkner posted the fourth fastest time in the bike race, behind a trio of Honda riders. Next fastest after Walkner was Australia’s Daniel Sanders of GasGas Factory Racing.
“It feels good to have started off strong and hopefully now we keep this ball rolling for the rest of the week.” – Daniel Sanders
There were various issues for Walkner’s KTM team-mates Kevin Benavides (ARG), Sam Sunderland (GBR) and Toby Price (AUS) on stage one. This trio will be out to claw back lost time on the four remaining stages.
“It was a rough day, but there’s still four days of work to do here in Morocco.” – Toby Price
In the side-by-side (SxS) race it was straight back to business for Cristina Gutiérrez, current leader of the T3 category of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies. The Spaniard now also leads the T3 category at Rallye du Maroc as she looks to add to this season’s victories in Andalucia and Kazakhstan.
“We finished in eighth position overall and first in our class. That’s pretty much the best start possible. We’re happy with the navigation, with the car and with the team” – Cristina Gutiérrez
Things did not go so smoothly for Gutiérrez’s fellow Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team driver Seth Quintero as the teenage American suffered a setback on stage one.
Tomorrow’s second stage brings with it 330km against the clock with much of today’s combination of fast, dusty tracks as well as dunes repeated. Find the latest results here.
Nasser Al-Attiyah: “Today was a good day for us. We didn’t have any problems. We started as the tenth car on the road so it was a little bit dusty, but this worked out OK for us. Tomorrow will be another long stage and we’ll try to do our best like we always do.”
Matthias Walkner: “Finally the first day is done, it felt super long. After such a long break from riding this type of rally it felt super fast, especially in the morning. Then at the end I was felling better and better. I was not the fastest today but I was happy with my navigation.”
Daniel Sanders: “I had a good first day. I was gradually building things up all day. The longer I was out there the more comfortable I felt. It feels good to have started off strong and hopefully now we keep this ball rolling for the rest of the week.”
Kevin Benavides: “Today was the first long stage and in the first part we had sand storms. It was so hard to see the track and navigation was so tricky. In the second part I could push, but the bike is still new for me so I didn’t want to risk too much.”
Sam Sunderland: “The bike felt great, but issues with the GPS equipment from the organisers was very annoying. We’re here to gain knowledge so we’ll stay with that in mind over the next days.”
Toby Price: “From about 30km we’re at the lead and we’re navigating the track until about 130km. Then we hit the dust storm and it got pretty bad. We got caught up there and we were all trying to find the piste. I got lost coming out of a riverbed and ended up losing about 40 minutes. It was a rough day, but there’s still four days of work to do here in Morocco.”
Cristina Gutiérrez: “This is my first rally after the injury and we’re very happy with today’s result. We finished in eighth position overall and first in our class. That’s pretty much the best start possible. We’re happy with the navigation, with the car and with the team. We’ll see what happens on the next days because this race is very long.”