Monday, March 4, 2024

2023 Rallye du Maroc: Price wins in RallyGP but Benavides takes championship

Unless you’re NASCAR, a championship contender winning the final race of the season but not the title itself is a painful but not uncommon phenomenon.

Toby Price experienced this firsthand as he won the Rallye du Maroc overall but lost the World Rally-Raid Championship in RallyGP by just four points to Luciano Benavides. It is the closest margin for a W2RC class since its inception in 2022, a mark last held by last year’s T4 title coming down to six points and edging out the five-point 2023 T3 battle.

Price took the points lead after the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge only for Benavides to claim it two rounds later at the Desafío Ruta 40 due to a broken shock that relegated him to last in class. He entered Morocco trailing by ten points.

A runner-up finish in Stage #2 propelled Price up to second overall behind Ross Branch before overtaking him the next day due to a slow start for the latter. Unfortunately for him, Benavides won Stage #4 to creep onto the outright podium, and Price quickly realised the disaster in Argentina was going to “come back to haunt me.”

Going into the last day, Benavides simply needed to finish on the overall podium to clinch the championship regardless of Price’s result. Although Pablo Quintanilla, who was fourth, won winning the final stage, Branch crashed in the dunes and fell off the podium entirely which Benavides capitalised upon to finish second behind Price and ice the title.

“The championship is a hard one to swallow,” said Price. He will try to finish the job in 2024, but his future afterwards is uncertain as he contemplates a switch to rally raid cars. “We put up a good fight and did everything we could but 2023 just hasn’t been the greatest season for us. I’m happy in the fact that I never gave up and put in 100 percent right to the finish.”

Benavides ended the season with 100 points. Had he finished third, he and Price would be tied at 96 points each with Benavides holding the second tiebreaker of runner-up finishes with two (Abu Dhabi and Morocco) to Price’s one (Dakar Rally). While he finished second overall at the Desafío Ruta 40, winner Tosha Schareina did not compete for points and thereby made Benavides the race’s W2RC victor.

The win completes a tumultuous yet wildly successful season for the Benavides family. His older brother Kevin Benavides beat Price for the Dakar Rally win but had his year cut short by multiple injuries, though he was able to join Luciano in celebrating in Argentina and Morocco.

“It’s a dream come true for me. It’s been a long journey to get to this point from finishing my first rally here in Morocco in 2017,” said Benavides after the final stage. “To finish like this against Toby on the last day of the rally while opening the stage is incredible, I can’t thank the team enough for all the hard work and their belief in me.

“Waiting for confirmation of the championship when I finished was tense. Forty minutes felt like four hours, but I knew I gave my best today as there was no other option. It was really special to start first because I could just look forward and get on with it, and no one caught me so I finished first too. I want to celebrate and enjoy this feeling for a while because although it is amazing, it’s been a tough season and I have trained hard so I want to rest for a week or two. After that, it’s full gas again because I want to keep the same rhythm and pace for Dakar as it’s another dream for me to win.”

Schareina won two stages and the Prologue, but was in a hole early after getting lost in Stage #1 and suffered a broken exhaust in Stage #4.

The first half was particularly unkind to the RallyGP field. Skyler Howes‘ début with Monster Energy Honda Rally Team was cut short when he hit a hole and crashed in the Prologue, resulting in broken bones; team-mate and fellow American Ricky Brabec retired the next day with fuel issues, as did reigning champion Sam Sunderland due to blurred vision. Price’s Red Bull KTM ally Matthias Walkner fell just seconds after starting Stage #3, while Branch’s Hero MotoSports colleague Joaquim Rodrigues never even started the rally due to an accident on the last day of shakedowns.

While Benavides won the rider’s title on a Husqvarna, Honda escaped with the manufacturer’s championship as they beat KTM by eight points; KTM was the lone multi-time W2RC winner via Kevin Benavides and Price. Honda scored a win in Abu Dhabi with Adrien Van Beveren, who finished third in points, while Quintanilla was fifth and José Ignacio Cornejo sixth. Howes was Benavides’ partner at Husqvarna Factory Racing before departing the team after the Sonora Rally.

RallyGP overall results

Finish Number Rider Team Time Margin
1 8 Toby Price Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 15:56:43 Leader
2 77 Luciano Benavides Husqvarna Factory Racing 15:59:43 + 3:00
3 7 Pablo Quintanilla Monster Energy Honda Rally Team 15:59:55 + 3:12
4 16 Ross Branch Hero MotoSports 16:01:27 + 4:44
5 68 Tosha Schareina* Honda Team 16:05:23 + 8:40
6 11 José Ignacio Cornejo Monster Energy Honda Rally Team 16:09:42 + 12:59
7 42 Adrien Van Beveren Monster Energy Honda Rally Team 16:32:35 + 35:52
8 14 Sebastian Bühler Hero MotoSports 17:08:59 + 1:12:16
9 15 Lorenzo Santolino* Sherco Factory Racing 17:23:11 + 1:26:28
10 19 Rui Gonçalves* Sherco Factory Racing 17:35:18 + 1:38:35
11 20 Harith Noah* Sherco Factory Racing 18:15:11 + 2:18:28
DNF 1 Sam Sunderland Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing DNF N/A
DNF 2 Ricky Brabec Monster Energy Honda Rally Team DNF N/A
DNF 10 Skyler Howes Monster Energy Honda Rally Team DNF N/A
DNF 52 Matthias Walkner Red Bull KTM Factory Racing DNF N/A
* – Not competing in World Rally-Raid Championship

RallyGP stage winners

Stage Rider Time
Prologue Tosha Schareina* 55:15.2 (11:03.2)
Stage #1 Ross Branch 3:13:17
Stage #2 Tosha Schareina* 3:02:15
Stage #3 Tosha Schareina* 3:03:35
Stage #4 Luciano Benavides 3:35:12
Stage #5 Pablo Quintanilla 1:49:17

Overall winners

Class Number Competitor Team Time
T1 201 Yazeed Al-Rajhi Toyota Gazoo Racing 14:49:09
T2 251 Ronald Basso* Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body 22:14:17
T3 315 Marek Goczał EnergyLandia Rally Team 16:22:12
T4 403 João Ferreira South Racing Can-Am 18:26:24
T5 506 Michiel Becx* Team de Rooy 21:32:34
RallyGP 8 Toby Price Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 15:56:43
Rally2 32 Bradley Cox BAS World KTM Racing Team 17:06:37
Rally3 164 Cheikh Yves Jacquemain Africa Rallye Team 23:42:39
Quad 186 Alexandre Giroud* Drag’on Rally Team 21:07:24
Open Auto 601 Jérôme Cambier* MD Rallye Sport 21:21:46
Open SSV 653 Tomas Mickus* BRO Racing 21:42:23
Road to Dakar Bike 71 Toby Hederics* BAS World KTM Racing Team 19:11:16
Road to Dakar SSV 420 William Grarre* Team Horizon Off-Road 21:50:39

W2RC RallyGP standings

Rank Rider Points Margin
1 Luciano Benavides 100 – Leader
2 Toby Price 96 – 4
3 Adrien Van Beveren 76 – 24
4 Ross Branch 58 – 42
5 Pablo Quintanilla 55 – 45
6 José Ignacio Cornejo 52 – 48
7 Kevin Benavides 43 – 57
8 Daniel Sanders 39 – 61
9 Ricky Brabec 38 – 62
10 Skyler Howes 34 – 66
11 Sebastian Bühler 25 – 75
12 Matthias Walkner 13 – 87
13 Franco Caimi 11 – 89
14 Mason Klein 4 – 96

Manufacturer’s standings

Rank Manufacturer Points Margin
1 Honda 155 Leader
2 KTM 147 – 8
3 Husqvarna 134 – 21
4 Hero 86 – 69
5 GasGas 39 – 116