AFRIQUIA MERZOUGA RALLY Gran triunfo de Joan Barreda Bort El Dakar en el punto de mira de los amateurs

After five days of racing in the desert of southern Morocco, Spaniard Joan Barreda (Honda) won two stages and the general
classification of ninth Afriquia Merzouga Rally. Frenchman Axel Dutrie (quads) and Brazilian Bruno Varela (S×S) also won the
race outright. For the field as a whole, including many amateurs, the number 1 goal was gaining more experience in ultra-tough
stages as a further step towards their dream of taking part in the Dakar, the biggest rally raid in the world.
Key points:
– Spaniard Joan Barreda (Honda) won two stages and the motorbike classification of Afriquia Merzouga Rally
– Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) took the closing stage by 3 seconds over Kevin Benavides (Honda)
– Frenchman Axel Dutrie (quads) and Brazilian Bruno Varela (S×S), both of them rookies in the Afriquia Merzouga Rally, won the
race outright
– Arkadiusz Lindner (Can-Am) and Frédéric Henricy (Polaris) claimed the fifth and last stage
– Anthony Boursaud (motorbikes) and Éric Abel (S×S), the leaders of the “Road to Dakar” classification, earned their tickets to
the next Dakar
– All the competitors underscored the friendly atmosphere and tough challenges of the Afriquia Merzouga Rally, which emerges
as one of the highlights of the season.

Erg Chebbi no longer holds any secrets for them. After five days of battling their way through the desert of southern Morocco, the
competitors started the closing stage of the ninth Afriquia Merzouga Rally this morning. First the S×S buggies, then the quads and then
the motorbikes took off in what turned out to be a thrilling mass start before today’s 48.8 km special, which was all about dunes.
Joan Barreda crowned King of the Desert
It was the ideal terrain for the top teams, all of them present in the Afriquia Merzouga Rally. “It was a fierce battle”, admitted Toby Price
(KTM). Honda really pushed us to the limit.” The Japanese maker shone against KTM (whose victorious streak in the Dakar goes all the
way back to 2001), Husqvarna, Sherco and Hero. Only Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) managed to prevent a Honda whitewash with his
victory on Friday. Joan Barreda won two stages (1 and 3) and dominated the general classification throughout the week. He became the
worthy winner of his first Afriquia Merzouga Rally.
Frenchman Axel Dutrie was also racing here for the first time. After three Dakar starts, and despite being here “mainly to test [his] quad”,
the rider from northern France easily won the quad race, bagging the first two stages in the process. The Side by Side category was a
more closely fought affair. Former Dakar biker Ruben Faria and his Can-Am teammate Casey Curry saw their overall dreams go up in
smoke due to mechanical problems on Thursday. Brazilian Bruno Varela (Can-Am South Racing), driving the same S×S with which his
father won the Dakar in January, capitalised on the situation to claim the race. “Let the Dakar start already”, he quipped!
An extraordinary atmosphere
“The level continues to rise year after year”, points out Éric Abel (S×S), racing in his eighth Afriquia Merzouga Rally. “We’ve seen the
event grow and the elite riders arrive, but the spirit remains the same.” This “spirit” cherished by regular patrons can be felt all over the
place: when competitors help one another on the rack, when they engage in lengthy afternoon conversations in the calm of the bivouac,
and in the ties that develop among them. “Here we know we’re going to see everyone, it’s an event with a human dimension, a true
family!”
Many competitors decided to share this week with their loved ones. Yamaha quad riders Antoine Vitse and Axel Dutrie brought their
wives Aurélie and Valentine with them. “It’s an amazing setting and a really pleasant atmosphere”, says Valentine, who helps her husband
to prepare his road book every evening. It’s really cool to share his passion alongside him!” Spaniard Julio Luis García Merino is here
with four of his brothers. “Our family is like a team”, he says enthusiastically from on top the bike his brother Julián used at the last Dakar.
“It’s great to be together in a rally as nice as the Afriquia Merzouga Rally.”

“Dakar school” at the Afriquia Merzouga Rally
Once again, the rally turned out to be the ideal place for all those dreaming of racing in the Dakar. Its tough course, the support provided
by star riders such as Dutchman Frans Verhoeven and the evening courses given after each stage upheld the rally’s raison d’être:
“helping everyone to get better and become a good rally raid racer”, explains the creator of the race, Edo Mossi. Two competitors stood
out from the rest: Anthony Boursaud (Yamaha) and Éric Abel (Polaris) in the Side by Side category. They were first in the “Road to Dakar”
classification for competitors who want to take part in the Dakar.
WHAT THE AMATEURS SAY
Luís Correia (Portugal, motorbikes, Yamaha): “I really wanted to take part in this race to check whether my preparation is good enough
for a challenge like the Dakar. This rally boosted my confidence. As soon as I get home I’ll start working hard to raise funds for the Dakar.”
Vanni Cominotto (Italy, motorbike, Sherco): “The Afriquia Merzouga Rally was my first rally raid, but I’d already taken part in national
races. It was also the first time I used this navigation system. I was a bit tense and nervous at the start! I’ll see how it goes over the next
few weeks, but I’m still dreaming of going to the Dakar. I learned a lot thanks to the evening courses and the tips the coach [Frans
Verhoeven] gave us during the stages.”
Thomas Roesslinger (France, motorbike, KTM): “It’s my second Afriquia Merzouga Rally, and I’m here with a view to get stronger
before the Dakar, which remains my big dream. I’ve still got a long way to go in terms of both navigation and riding. This week taught me
I still need to take part in other rallies to get better before I can sign up for the Dakar.”
Lorenzo Santolino (Spain, motorbike, Sherco): “I was having a good rally until I suffered a mechanical yesterday. But I’m still very
happy with how the week went. It’s an important stage for everyone who’s training and gaining experience for the Dakar.”
WHAT THE WINNERS SAY
Joan Barreda (motorbike champion, Honda): “I’m really ecstatic.” It’s crazy to win here! It was a very interesting and challenging rally
that really put our navigational skills to the test. The field was very strong this year, so I’m strong to take this leap forward in my
preparation.”
Axel Dutrie (quad champion, Yamaha): “I was a bit stressed going into the last special, I didn’t want to have any mechanical problems!
Now that it’s over, I’m delighted with how the week went, there were many positive things about my quad. This week has boosted my
confidence. I’d also like to congratulate Jérémy Forestier (second) and Antoine Vitse (third) on their strong performances.”
Bruno Varela (S×S champion, Can-Am South Racing): “It was my first race outside Brazil, my first experience on the dunes and my
first victory! I’m over the moon! Now it’s time to focus on the Dakar. Both me and my Dad, who won the Dakar in January, would like to
take part. The Afriquia Merzouga Rally is the ideal place to train: we get to race on dunes, stony sections and fast tracks, which are all
the ingredients of the Dakar!”

FINAL STAGE 5 CLASSIFICATION:
MOTORBIKES
1- Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) 38′12′′
2- Kevin Benavides (Honda) + 3′′
3- Toby Price (KTM) + 6′′
QUADS
1- Arkadiusz Lindner (Can-Am) 50′03′′
2- Tomáš Kubiena (KTM) + 3′′
3- Gary Aldington (Yamaha) + 11′′
SIDE BY SIDE
1- Frédéric Henricy (Polaris) 4 h 09′07′′
2- Juan Miguel Fidel Medero (Yamaha) + 10′24′′
3- Éric Abel (Polaris) + 15′41′′

FINAL GENERAL CLASSIFICATION
MOTORBIKES
1- Joan Barreda (Honda) 13 h 28′19′′
2- Kevin Benavides (Honda) + 6′10′′
3- Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) + 11′25′′
QUADS
1- Axel Dutrie (Yamaha) 18 h 24′52′′
2- Jérémy Forestier (Yamaha) + 1 h 43′28′′
3- Antoine Vitse (Yamaha) + 2 h 29′36′′
SIDE BY SIDE
1- Bruno Varela (Can-Am) 17 h 22′17′′
2- Éric Abel (Polaris) + 1 h 35′36′′
3- Annett Fischer (Can-Am) + 1 h 46′12′′

THE AFRIQUIA MERZOUGA RALLY IN FIGURES
4 out of 5 stages went to Honda riders
6 sponsors contributed to the success of the Afriquia Merzouga Rally: title sponsor Afriquia, official race broadcaster 2M, KTM, Ain
Soltane, Sigecont and Naviera Armas
20 nationalities
76 competitors took part in the Afriquia Merzouga Rally for the first time
156 riders, drivers and co-drivers started the rally

Q&A. How do you recover after a rally?
Edo Mossi, the creator of the Afriquia Merzouga Rally, runs the evening courses given to competitors after each stage: “All the
competitors, but especially amateurs, are used to driving or riding once or twice a week. Racing several days in a row is very
exhausting. This evening, after the stage, the best reward is having a nice beer next to the pool! [laughs] Afterwards, it’s time to take a
rest, stay away from your vehicle for 10 days and practise some sport. After that, you can gradually start training again on your
motorbike, quad or Side by Side.”

AFRIQUIA MERZOUGA RALLY ERRATUM –Benavides wins the 4th stage

In the evening the Race Direction rectified today’s results following the decision to stop the stage at km 224,
instead of the original 241,10 km. The Argentinian Kevin Benavides (Honda), winner of the prologue and the
second stage, wins the stage, while his team mate Joan Barreda maintains the leadership of the overall. In the
quad category, Axel Dutrie (Yamaha) finished second behind Jeremy Forestier, but remains first in the overall.
Bruno Varela, second today behind Frederic Henricy, is the new leader of the SxS category.
CLASSIFICATION OF THE 4 TH  STAGE
MOTO
1-     Kevin Benavides (Honda) en 3h07’14
2-     Ricky Brabec (Honda) à 12’’
3-     Juan Pedrero Garcia (Sherco) à 56’’
4-     Luis Correia (Yamaha) à 1’22’’
5-     Stefan Vitko (JTM) à 1’51’’

QUAD
1-     Jeremy Forestier (Yamaha) en 3h50’38
2-     Axel Dutrie (Yamaha) à 1’26’’
3-     Antoine Vitse (Yamaha) à 25’14’’

SIDE BY SIDE
1-     Frederic Henricy (Polaris) en 3h48’09
2-     Bruno Varela (Can-Am) à 23’’
3-     Juan Miguel Fidel Medero (Yamaha) à 2’52’’

OVERALL CLASSIFICATION  (Stage 4)
MOTO

1-     Joan Barreda Bort (Honda) en 12h49’41
2-     Kevin Benavides (Honda) à 6’33
3-     Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) à 11’51
4-     Franco Caimi (Yamaha) à 18’33’’
5-     Ricky Brabec (Honda) à 19’47’’

QUAD
1-     Axel Dutrie (Yamaha) en 17h34’20
2-     Jérémy Forestier (Yamaha) à 1h43’27
3-     Antoine Vitse (Yamaha) à 2h29’45

SIDE BY SIDE
1-     Bruno Varela (Can-Am) en 16h27’03
2-     Eric Abel (Polaris) à 1h35’13
3-     Frederic Fischer (Polaris) à 1h44’56

AFRIQUIA MERZOUGA RALLY Joan Barreda makes it two!

Competitors in the Afriquia Merzouga Rally faced a 241.1 km course with dunes as far as the eye can see today. The queen stage took bikers, quad riders and Side by Side drivers to the heart of the desert. The third day of racing was also the first half of the marathon stage, which means the competitors will have to go without their assistance crews this evening. Spaniard Joan Barreda claimed his second stage win and padded his lead in the general classification. Gary Aldington (Yamaha) and Ruben Faria (Can-Am) won in the quad and S×S categories.

– A highly technical 241.1 km stage
– Today was a marathon stage, which leaves competitors without their assistance crews tonight
– Stage 1 winner Joan Barreda won the motorbike stage and increased his margin in the general classification
– Brit Gary Aldington (Yamaha) claimed the quad race, but Frenchman Axel Dutrie (Yamaha) defended his overall lead – Ruben Faria (Can-Am) won the S×S stage and remains in control of the category.
– The competitors will see their assistance crews again after 233 km of racing tomorrow.

“Bring it on”, they say. Their enthusiasm burning as bright as ever, the competitors took off for the queen stage of the ninth Afriquia Merzouga Rally in the early hours this morning. It was another technically complex day in the heart of the dunes in southern Morocco. A 63 km liaison took the participants to the start of the 241.1 km special. A seemingly never-ending sea of dunes awaited. The super-soft dunes at the start gave way to those in the Rissani and Chebbi ergs before the sandy areas of the Fezzou region and, towards the end, the Ouzina erg prior to reaching the bivouac set up in the middle of the desert.

This is what the first half of the marathon stage looked like. Competitors will be unable to call upon their assistance crews at the bivouac. “It forces you to be extra careful during the day to avoid mechanical problems, as well as staying as calm as possible in the evening”, points out Loïc Minaudier, racing in his first Afriquia Merzouga Rally after completing his third Dakar in January. The favourites, on the other hand, kept pushing hard.

Joan Barreda (Honda) grabbed a repeat win after claiming the opening stage on Monday. The Spaniard, a 20-time stage winner in the Dakar, padded his lead in the general classification. Just like yesterday, Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) posted the second fastest time, but he is still in third place in the overall, right behind Kevin Benavides (Honda), who finished third today. Former Dakar biker Ruben Faria expanded his overall lead with another victory in the S×S race. Finally, Brit Gary Aldington is the provisional winner of the quad stage, but victory could end up going to the race leader, Frenchman Axel Dutrie (Yamaha). Dutrie lost 20-odd minutes while helping out an amateur rider, but race officials could review his case during the evening. Now, all the riders are focused on the next stage, which is also the penultimate one of the Afriquia Merzouga Rally.

PROVISIONAL STAGE 3 CLASSIFICATION: MOTORBIKES

  1. 1-  Joan Barreda (Honda) 3 h 23′42′′
  2. 2-  Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) + 8′59′′
  3. 3-  Kevin Benavides (Honda) + 9′15′′
  4. 4-  Toby Price (KTM) + 10′49′′
  5. 5-  Franco Caimi (Yamaha) + 11′21′′

QUADS

  1. 1-  Gary Aldington (Yamaha) 4 h 36′53′′
  2. 2-  Jérémy Forestier (Yamaha) + 3′21′′
  3. 3-  Axel Dutrie (Yamaha)* + 18′42′′

SIDE BY SIDE

  1. 1-  Ruben Faria (Can-Am) en 4 h 07′04′′
  2. 2-  Bruno Varela (Can-Am) + 7′01′′
  3. 3-  Casey Curie (Can-Am) + 24′41′′

Key points:

Merzouga, 18th of April 2018

PROVISIONAL GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 3: MOTORBIKES

  1. 1-  Joan Barreda (Honda) 9 h 36′09′′
  2. 2-  Kevin Benavides (Honda) + 12′51′′
  3. 3-  Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) + 13′52′′
  4. 4-  Franco Caimi (Yamaha) + 18′22′′
  5. 5-  Toby Price (KTM) + 20′17′′

QUADS

  1. 1-  Axel Dutrie (Yamaha) 13 h 59′09′′
  2. 2-  Jérémy Forestier (Yamaha) + 1 h 27′00′′
  3. 3-  Gary Aldington (Yamaha) + 1 h 49′04′′

SIDE BY SIDE

  1. 1-  Ruben Faria (Can-Am) 12 h 19′41′′
  2. 2-  Bruno Varela (Can-Am) + 14′50′′
  3. 3-  Casey Curie (Can-Am) + 20′38′′

QUOTES

Joan Barreda (Honda, 1st): “It was a fantastic day. I opened the road and pushed really hard to gain time. In the second part of the special there was a section littered with stones. I took a tumble, but it was nothing serious, thankfully. I was able to keep going at the same pace until the finish. Now it’s time to defend my lead, but I’m pleased with the work of the entire team.”

Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna, 2nd): “It was a very hard and technical stage, even tricky in certain places. For example, some sections were full of stones, so we had to be careful. I lost some time in a río, but the bike is still in good shape. I need to keep it up from tomorrow.”

Kevin Benavides (Honda, 3rd): “Navigating was really hard today, but I had good feelings. I’m sure I gained some time today.”

Toby Price (KTM, 4th): “It was a complicated day in which we needed to navigate very carefully. I lost some time, unfortunately, but I’m still in the mix. The Honda riders are doing great in this rally, which makes things interesting for the rest of us. During the marathon stage you don’t get to sleep in a 4-star hotel, but it brings us all together in a great atmosphere.”

Axel Dutrie (quads, Yamaha, 3rd): “It was a good day. I stopped for about 20 minutes to help a biker who’d suffered an accident. When you see someone on the ground, you don’t even entertain the thought of leaving him behind, it’s normal to help. I hope we’ll get a cool night and be able to relax tonight. Today was the hottest days since the start of the rally.”

TOMORROW’S PROGRAMME. Back to the Toumbouctou Hotel!

The penultimate stage of the Afriquia Merzouga Rally will take the competitors back to the bivouac at the Toumbouctou Hotel. The day will start with a 36 km liaison where participants can enjoy the amazing views. The 233 km special puts the spotlight on the dunes before a section on fast tracks that goes all the way to Errachidia. Finally, a maze of tracks will put the competitors’ navigational skills to the test. They will then be able to link up with their assistance crews and get ready for the closing stage of the Afriquia Merzouga Rally with peace of mind.

AFRIQUIA MERZOUGA RALLY — MAGAZINE A lesson in self-sacrifice

It was an extenuating day. Wednesday saw the competitors tackle the 241.1 km long queen stage of the Afriquia Merzouga Rally with, as usual, plenty of dunes on the menu. The stage ended at a bivouac in the middle of the desert. Today was the first half of the marathon stage, which leaves competitors without their assistance crews. Although solidarity will be key, the marathon stage does not scare Daniel Albero, the first diabetic participant in the Afriquia Merzouga Rally, or Éric Croquelois, who has already taken part in the Dakar eight times in the motorbike category and is using this race to discover the joys of Side by Side racing.

STORY OF THE DAY. Daniel Albero, stronger than pain

He is a biker like any other. Daniel Albero is delighted to take part in the Afriquia Merzouga Rally. “I would’ve never thought that one day I’d get to race in such a prestigious rally”, says the Spaniard. Daniel Albero has had diabetes since age 10, which requires him to constantly watch his blood sugar levels. “As a kid, it was tough because I wasn’t allowed to practise sports at school or in a club. The same happened when I tried to sign up for bike races.” The bus driver from Valencia, a real jack-of-all-trades who is equally capable of riding a motorbike and playing music, is determined to forge ahead. “I want to show everyone that people with diabetes can make their dreams come true, just like everyone else.” His dream is the Dakar, where he hopes to become the first diabetic competitor. “Racing in the Afriquia Merzouga Rally is already a huge satisfaction, a golden opportunity to show what I’m made of. It’s crazy how much you can learn about the nuances of rally raids here.” Daniel also feels the weight of his “great responsibility” towards all the people who see themselves in him or come to him for advice. “I can’t afford to forget about my treatment for a single second when out on the tracks, but I feel freer than ever.”

THE COMEBACK KID. “Croquette” surfs the dunes again!

The fatigue of three days of racing has failed to wipe the smile from Éric Croquelois’ face. The driver from northern France, who has started the Dakar fifteen times on a motorbike, had not raced in rally raids for two years. A nasty fall in Bolivia in 2016 left him with a fractured hand and four broken ribs. However, he has put that experience behind him: “Croquette”, as he is known, is now having fun at the wheel of one of the 32 Side by Side buggies in the Afriquia Merzouga Rally. “I’m having an absolute blast out there”, he confesses. “It’s easier to go up the dunes than on a bike!” After watching the last Dakar from the sidelines, Éric seems to have caught a second wind. Back in the laid-back atmosphere of the canteen, he speaks to other riders with the right words for each of them. He seems to change his mind: “I was getting too old for motorbikes. Racing in the Afriquia Merzouga Rally in a Side by Side? We decided to sign up a fortnight ago, with my brother-in-law as the co-driver.”

He is still beaming as he moves up the learning curve, but he has had his share of bad luck: “We chose the wrong settings and ended up rolling over in the first stage. Fortunately enough, the only casualty was a rear-view mirror.” Another competitor lent them a hand to help get them back on their way. The next day it was their turn to help out another competitor who had also flipped his vehicle, as well as a few bikers who had lost their bearings. “You could say we’re the St Bernards of this rally”, chuckles “Croquette”, who is pleased to ease back into the routine of a rally raid in such “a jaw-dropping setting”. The experience has left the man from northern France all fired- up and eager to sign up for the Dakar in this category. “I probably will. The Afriquia Merzouga Rally makes you want to race one day after the other!”

FIGURE OF THE DAY: 39

KTM is fielding the largest contingent in the Afriquia Merzouga Rally. 39 of the 124 bikers in the race are competing on a machine from the Austrian maker. Yamaha is the second most popular brand, with 12 motorbikes, 8 quads and 9 Side by Side, for a total of 19 vehicles. A further 11 competitors are riding Husqvarna motorbikes and 7 are racing on Honda motorbikes.

Q&A. How can you succeed in a marathon stage?

Edo Mossi, the creator of the Afriquia Merzouga Rally, runs the evening courses given to competitors after each stage: “Preparation is essential. You need to spend weeks training back home to understand everything about your vehicle and develop your mechanical knowledge. The days before the race should be spent double-checking everything to avoid surprises on D Day. If you leave anything to chance, it will come back to haunt you. You also need to respect and take care of your vehicle, and that means not being reckless. If you damage a tyre, you’ll have pressure issues the next day, if you break something, you’ll be forced to cope with it, so you have to be as cautious as possible.”

Merzouga, 18th of April 2018

FOCUS ON… The key role of Afriquia, 2M, Ain Soltane, Sigecont and Naviera Armas

Afriquia is the title sponsor of the event for the third year running. The Moroccan company supplies competitors with fuel and oil throughout the rally and provides essential logistical support. “It’s a strong, widely recognised brand that boosts the quality and prestige of the rally”, stresses Afriquia Merzouga Rally sponsor manager Alejandro de Goycoechea. The event also boasts a wide range of official suppliers: KTM, present alongside its factory team; Moroccan company Ain Soltane, which supplies 12,000 litres of water throughout the Merzouga Rally; Sigecont, an Italian business specialising in public works; and the Spanish shipping company Naviera Armas, which transfers the vehicles from Europe to Morocco. 2M, the leading media group in Morocco, is also making its debut as a partner of the Afriquia Merzouga Rally. As the official rally broadcaster, 2M offers a cross-cutting package ranging from TV footage and Internet coverage to social networks.

AFRIQUIA MERZOUGA RALLY Benavides strikes again!

The stakes keep getting higher at the Afriquia Merzouga Rally. After yesterday’s 206.71 km opener, the competitors tackled a 175.30 km stage with two lengthy loops crossing massive fields of dunes. The combination of heat (with the mercury hitting 30 °C), navigational challenges and soft sand demanded a laser-like focus from amateurs and pros alike. The winner of the prologue on Sunday, Kevin Benavides (Honda), won today’s stage in the motorbike category, as did Axel Dutrie (Yamaha) in the quad race and Casey Curie (Can-Am) in the S×S competition.

Key points:

  • –  Stage 2 took the competitors through a 206.71 km course
  • –  Kevin Benavides (Honda) claimed today’s stage after winning the prologue on Sunday
  • –  The Argentinian beat Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) and Toby Price (KTM)
  • –  Axel Dutrie (Yamaha) and Casey Currie (South Racing Can-Am) triumphed in the quad and Side by Side categories
  • –  Tomorrow, the first part of the marathon stage will take the rally to a bivouac in the middle of the desert after 241.1 km of

    racing

    Although the Afriquia Merzouga Rally aims to be a race for amateurs to hone their skills in before signing up for the world’s biggest rally raids, the rally held in southern Morocco is far from being a walk in the park, even for the pros. “The road books are really difficult, with up to four notes in just one kilometre”, stresses American biker Ricky Brabec (Honda). “Making a mistake is easy, and this can cost you dearly in the general classification”, adds Axel Dutrie (Yamaha), the winner of the quad stage.

    The elite competitors really kicked it up a notch on Tuesday. “The winners were much faster than we expected”, admits the race control team. Kevin Benavides prevailed in the intense battle in the motorbike category. Having already claimed the 5 km prologue on Sunday, the Argentinian earned Honda its second victory in as many days after Joan Barreda won yesterday’s stage. He outgunned Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna, + 2′16′′), who had already finished on the podium yesterday (3rd), and Toby Price (KTM). In the quad category, Axel Dutrie (Yamaha) bounced back after losing 33 minutes due to a navigation mistake on Monday. The Frenchman won the stage ahead of Jérémy Forestier and Antoine Vitse, also riding Yamaha quads. Finally, American Casey Currie (Can-Am) won the Side by Side stage.

    PROVISIONAL STAGE 2 CLASSIFICATION: MOTORBIKES

  1. 1-  Kevin Benavides (Yamaha) 3 h 14′58′′
  2. 2-  Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) + 2′16′′
  3. 3-  Toby Price (KTM) + 3′41′′
  4. 4-  Franco Caimi (Yamaha) + 7′42′′
  5. 5-  Ignacio Cornejo (Honda) + 8′10′′

SIDE BY SIDE

  1. 1-  Currie Casey (Can-Am) 3h28’03’’
  2. 2-  Frederic Henricy (Polaris) + 18’22
  3. 3-  Carlos Checa (Polaris) + 23’15’’

QUADS

  1. 1-  Axel Dutrie (Yamaha) 4 h 01′05′′
  2. 2-  Jérémy Forestier (Yamaha) + 10′58′′
  3. 3-  Antoine Vitse (Yamaha) + 13′24′′

QUOTES

Kevin Benavides (Honda, 1st): “It was a fantastic stage. It’s Honda’s third win since the start of the rally [including the prologue he won on Sunday and Joan Barreda’s victory yesterday), so all that hard work is paying off. I attacked a lot today, but I had to ease up towards the end of the stage because I was running out of petrol. Now we’ll work to get the bike ready for tomorrow’s marathon stage.”

Franco Caimi (Yamaha, 4th): “I’m not too pleased with how the stage went. It was very difficult, especially the start of the second part. To make matters worse, the pace was very high today. Our settings weren’t right and that also cost me some time. Fortunately, there’s still three days to go!”

Merzouga, 17th of April 2018

Joan Barreda (Honda, 6th): “My wrist still hurts after undergoing surgery in February. Today was difficult. I lost some time wandering around looking for a waypoint. I hope tomorrow will be better for me. I’ll start from a better position, so I hope to claw back a few minutes and move up in the general classification.”

Ricky Brabec (Honda, 7th): “I’ve been nursing a headache since yesterday and had to take some medicines before the start. It was another gruelling stage, especially on the navigational front. There are places where it is hard to tell tracks apart, with so many competitors and spectators! But I’m still happy to be here, I love this rally! Tomorrow we’ll face some fast stony tracks. I like this kind of terrain. I hope I can do something nice.”

TOMORROW’S PROGRAMME. Pushing the body to the limit!

Competitors would be well-advised to rest this evening ahead of stage 3. At a length of 241.1 km, the queen stage of the Afriquia Merzouga Rally is also the longest one. Following a 63 km liaison, the rally will face a sequence of dune fields before reaching a bivouac in the middle of the desert. It is the first part of the marathon stage, where competitors will have to make do without their assistance crews. Solidarity will therefore be essential to repair the machines and recover before stage 4 on the following day.