Wednesday, February 21, 2024

2023 Rallye du Maroc: Contenders fall in Stage 4

Stage #4 of the Rallye du Maroc was described by organiser David Castera as “the most beautiful, varied and difficult one of the rally.” The last descriptor was disturbingly accurate as Tuesday’s action saw the frontrunners in nearly every class suffer some kind of misfortune that drastically shook up the overall results entering the final day.

The wave of trouble hit the T1 category especially hard with three of the top five cars experiencing problems. Leader Nasser Al-Attiyah and Carlos Sainz both screeched to a halt at the 332-kilometre mark, just eleven km before the finish, at nearly identical moments. Sébastien Loeb, who was chasing down Al-Attiyah in the overall, got stuck in a crevice created by the bikes that started the stage. Fifth-placed Guerlain Chicherit was the fastest car at the halfway point before overshooting and rolling his Toyota Hilux.

“I caught Nasser very early. I think he had a puncture before, so he changed the wheel,” recapped Loeb. “I was in his dust, but he was already in the dust of (Mattias) Ekström. So I tried to catch, because I knew if I pass in front of Nasser, it’s already three minutes. I got him a few times on the Sentinel (tracking system), he didn’t let me pass, then finally he let me pass. I was driving fast, and it was a very tricky navigation point, where Ekström missed the point, he went straight. Then we passed Ekström, so I didn’t have to overtake him.

“I was first on the track, just doing my job and trying to keep the rhythm. I didn’t know if the other was following behind. I didn’t know if he was twenty metres behind or two kilometres behind, I had no idea, so I tried to keep the rhythm, and this was, again, the very tricky point for the first car. All the motorbikes went on this line. The line was not 100% correct, we were ten metres too much on the right, but the bikes jumped over the hole, and I just saw it when I was in.”

Sainz’s team-mate and Stage #3 winner Ekström had two tyre punctures that relegated him to a conservative strategy and he finished eighth. Their other Audi colleague Stéphane Peterhansel took advantage of the drama to record his first World Rally-Raid Championship stage win since the last leg of the 2022 Rallye du Maroc (as an Open Car entry) ahead of Loeb’s team-mate Orlando Terranova.

With Al-Attiyah and Loeb losing so much time, Yazeed Al-Rajhi finished fifth to inherit the overall lead and place himself in prime position for his second win of the season. Peterhansel, running a quiet but consistent pace, is his closest competition and 3:49 back. Both drivers are also the last two Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge victors, with Peterhansel claiming it in 2022 followed by Al-Rajhi.

In the T3 category, Seth Quintero only needs to survive the final stage on Wednesday to clinch the championship after Austin Jones suffered a mechanical problem twenty kilometres in. Mitch Guthrie, the T3 leader entering Morocco with a three-point edge over Jones and nine over Quintero, was virtually eliminated from contention by his own retirement the day prior.

Quintero is thirteen minutes behind Marek Goczał for the T3 outright lead. His brother Michał Goczał won the stage.

Bikes were also not exempt from surprises as Tosha Schareina‘s RallyGP win streak was snapped by a broken exhaust shortly after refuelling, relegating him to fifth. Luciano Benavides ended up winning the stage to delete some crucial minutes between him and overall leader Toby Price, who finished third and now leads Benavides by 6:24. Stage #1 victor Ross Branch sits between them and 5:56 behind Price.

“Today has been intense from start to finish. I knew I had a good start position, but it wasn’t going to be easy to make up time on the guys ahead who were earning bonus time,” said Benavides, who needs to pass Price in the overall—or Price has a problem on the final day—to win the championship. “I just kept my head down and did my best all the way through the special, especially in the final kilometres through the dunes.

“Tomorrow is the final day of the rally—the final day of the season in fact—and things are so close at the top of the standings. All I can do is give everything on the last stage. Whether I win or not, I know I will have tried my best.”

Quad overall leader Manuel Andújar was forced to retire after winning the first three legs when his Yamaha Raptor started losing oil after 114 kilometres. Dakar Rally Quad winner Alexandre Giroud capitalised to win the stage and take the top spot with nine minutes on Juraj Varga.

João Ferreira won in T4 by just twenty-one seconds over South Racing team-mate Sara Price. Ferreira holds a 11:49 lead over Price in the overall, the only driver with a chance of catching him for the win barring trouble.

The T5 battle continued to be a duel between Martin Macík Jr. and Janus van Kasteren, who has alternated stage wins with the latter claiming Tuesday’s. Macík remains ahead in the general ranking by an hour, though van Kasteren maintains the edge in the championship unless his truck lets him down again.

Richárd Hodola won his first stage in Rally3.

Rally2 rider Xavier Flick withdrew from the rally before Tuesday to return to France after the death of his father and Dakar Rally veteran François Flick. The younger Flick was fifteenth overall after three stages in his maiden W2RC start.

Stage #4 winners

Class Number Competitor Team Time
T1 208 Stéphane Peterhansel Team Audi Sport 3:30:49
T2 250 Akira Miura* Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body 4:50:41
T3 315 Michał Goczał EnergyLandia Rally Team 3:48:21
T4 403 João Ferreira South Racing Can-Am 4:13:33
T5 500 Janus van Kasteren Team de Rooy 4:15:35
RallyGP 77 Luciano Benavides Husqvarna Factory Racing 3:35:12
Rally2 33 Michael Docherty BAS World KTM Racing Team 3:50:54
Rally3 154 Richárd Hodola Richárd Hodola 5:34:09
Quad 186 Alexandre Giroud* Drag’on Rally Team 5:02:16
Open Auto 601 Jérôme Cambier* MD Rallye Sport 5:11:14
Open SSV 653 Tomas Mickus* BRO Racing 5:22:34
* – Not competing in World Rally-Raid Championship

Leaders after Stage #4

Class Number Competitor Team Time
T1 201 Yazeed Al-Rajhi Overdrive Racing 12:51:22
T2 250 Akira Miura* Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body 18:32:46
T3 316 Marek Goczał EnergyLandia Rally Team 14:15:15
T4 403 João Ferreira South Racing Can-Am 16:15:33
T5 501 Martin Macík Jr. MM Technology 16:29:12
RallyGP 9 Toby Price Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 14:02:38
Rally2 32 Bradley Cox BAS World KTM Racing Team 15:03:49
Rally3 164 Cheikh Yves Jacquemain Africa Rallye Team 20:46:17
Quad 186 Alexandre Giroud* Drag’on Rally Team 18:40:28
Open Auto 601 Jérôme Cambier* MD Rallye Sport 18:51:00
Open SSV 653 Tomas Mickus* BRO Racing 19:01:47