Stage Four of the rally completed the tough marathon stages, where riders camped overnight in a desert bivouac with no outside assistance from team mechanics. With the two stages totalling close to 600 kilometres, conservation of bikes and tyres was imperative for riders looking to successfully finish the two days and secure a strong result.
Over the course of the marathon stage riders were presented with a mixture of terrain including the fast, rocky tracks often seen during the rally so far and the soft sand dunes of the Sahara Desert. With his bike performing perfectly, Toby Price pushed hard on the rough, Moroccan ground. Setting off sixth, the Australian was able to catch and pass every rider ahead of him except for teammate Sunderland.
Toby Price: “The marathon stage went very well. It has been quite tricky – yesterday’s stage was harder on our tyres than expected, so we had to ride intelligently today. I made a small mistake yesterday but was lucky enough to find my way quickly again, that gave me a perfect start position for today. I navigated through the stage really well and made up some good time. The bike was great and handled everything really well, the balance in all of the riding conditions is perfect – thanks to the WP Suspension guys for that. One more day to go now, so we’ll see where we end up and hopefully claim a good result for the rally.”
Putting in his best individual stage performance at this year’s Morocco Rally, Pablo Quintanilla has earned a strong runner-up result on stage four. Gaining back more of the time lost during the challenging stage one, the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider has reduced the time gap to the provisional top-three in the overall standings. Quintanilla kept his head down and went on to put in the second best time for the day. Looking ahead to today’s final stage, the Chilean will look to secure yet another strong stage result.
Pablo Quintanilla: “This Marathon stage was tough for me. I have been struggling with a cold these last few days and yesterday I felt the effects on my body. I did my best despite this set-back and I am happy I finished this Marathons stage without any problems. Today I pushed more and managed to put in a great time in the special test. Some parts of the special were tricky and confusing but I tried to retain a good pace and make up for the time lost on stage one. I’m now fourth in the overall and we have one more stage to go. I’ll try to get some rest this evening and the goal is to get back stronger tomorrow and continue pushing until the last kilometre.”
Following his Stage Three win, Sam Sunderland led the riders away from the bivouac this morning. The 2017 Dakar Rally Champion opened the stage from start-to-finish, never headed by the riders behind. Sunderland’s finishing time placed him third, less than one-minute behind the stage runner-up.
Sam Sunderland: “It’s nice to finish the marathon stage. I was fastest yesterday and had a really good feeling on the bike. I did make a couple of mistakes but kept to a good rhythm and managed to get the stage win. Today I set off first, which is always a challenge, especially in the dunes as it’s easy for the guys behind to follow, but I still managed to reach the finish first. That’s encouraging, especially as things like the tyres were worn out after such a long distance. The bike feels really good and I’m happy with my riding, it’s just a shame I lost so much time on Saturday.”
Yamalube Yamaha Official’s Adrien van Beveren finished the day in fourth position
Ricky Brabec was able to continue his excellent form in this race without surrendering much time to adversaries in spite of starting out from third position this morning from the Merzouga bivouac. Monster Energy Honda Team’s American component posted fifth and maintains third spot in the overall rankings with just one day to go.
Ricky Brabec: “Today was stage four – the final stretch of the marathon stage and the start of the last special of the Morocco Rally. The day was good. The marathon went well with nice beds, good showers, great food and all the rider’s bikes were okay. The stage was 300 km with very fast pistes but the tyres were smoked. We really had to take care of the tyres and bikes to make it to the finish. I’m looking forward to the final kilometres to get back to Fez”
Finishing sixth on the day’s stage, Matthias Walkner now lies second in the provisional overall rally standings with one day left to race. Walkner rode a solid Stage Four, but a small error cost the Austrian rider a number of valuable minutes, ultimately dropping him down the order. Nevertheless, his fifth place start for Tuesday’s final stage will be an advantage in the battle to secure a podium place.
Matthias Walkner: “Yesterday went really good – I opened the whole piste and still finished second. I feel it cost me a lot of energy though, especially mentally, I was feeling especially tired today and wasn’t 100%. Today everything was good up to the refuelling point at 250 kilometres, after that I made a silly mistake where I went off-track and lost seven or eight minutes. It was my own fault but it’s frustrating as I know my speed is good. In the end I tried my best and mistakes can happen. I’ll try again tomorrow and aim to finish on the podium.”
Today’s mission for Paulo Gonçalves today was to complete the stage without complications after yesterday’s fall. The Portuguese rider rode a cautious ride to finish in seventh place and is fifth overall in the rally.
Paolo Goncalves: “Today was the second day of the marathon. After the fall yesterday I just tried to make it back safely to the bivouac without problems. I took the special very easy. They continue to be days with many dangers with a lot of rocks. We’ve had four days of racing now. Tomorrow we have the final stretch back to Fez. Everything has gone fine except for the fall yesterday. This is the final test before the Dakar. Now we just have to keep riding and make it to Fez.”
Elsewhere Chilean José Ignacio Cornejo was able to finish the day without major setbacks, to post a top ten place, ninth on the day and climbs to eighth place on the leader board.
José Ignacio Cornejo: “We have finished the fourth day and the second part of the marathon. They have been really tough days with a lot of dangers. I tried to keep the errors down as much as possible after the ones that I made yesterday. I went a lot more calmly today concentrating on the navigation. The objective has been to put in the kilometres before the Dakar, like a training session. We are trying to get back in one piece. We are preparing everything for the final day tomorrow.”
Andrew Short completed the day’s timed special less than 20 minutes behind Pablo. Securing yet another top-10 stage result, the American was ninth for the day. Currently 10th in the provisional overall standings, Andrew wants to put a positive end to his adventure in Morocco on tomorrow’s final stage.
Andrew Short: “I felt strong today. The stage today was a little bit similar to the previous ones but it was nice to go through the big Merzouga dunes. I’m also happy I reached the finish of the two-day Marathon stage today. For me the Marathon stage is really cool in rally racing because you get to interact with other riders. It feels like a real adventure and you need the most of the resources available to prepare yourself and your bike for the following stage. Overall, I feel good on my bike and I am looking forward to ending this event with a good result tomorrow.”
Stage 4 results:
|1||PRICE Toby||AUS||Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team||KTM||3:43’41|
|2||QUINTANILLA Pablo||CHI||Husqvarna Factory Rally Team||Husqvarna||+7’00|
|3||SUNDERLAND Sam||GBR||Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team||KTM||+7’47|
|4||VAN BEVEREN Adrien||FRA||Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team||Yamaha||+9’55|
|5||BRABEC Ricky||USA||Monster Energy Honda Team||Honda||+10’43|
|6||WALKNER Matthias||AUT||Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team||KTM||+13’21|
|7||GONCALVES Paulo||POR||Monster Energy Honda Team||Honda||+13’57|
|8||SANTOLINO Lorenzo||SPA||Sherco TVS Rally Factory||Sherco||+18’49|
|9||CORNEJO José Ignacio||CHI||Monster Energy Honda Team||Honda||+24’01|
|10||SHORT Andrew||USA||Husqvarna Factory Rally Team||Husqvarna||+25’52|
Overall standings after stage 4:
|1||PRICE Toby||AUS||Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team||KTM||13:36’29|
|2||WALKNER Matthias||AUT||Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team||KTM||+7’27|
|3||BRABEC Ricky||USA||Monster Energy Honda Team||Honda||+16’47|
|4||QUINTANILLA Pablo||CHI||Husqvarna Factory Rally Team||Husqvarna||+27’51|
|5||GONCALVES Paulo||POR||Monster Energy Honda Team||Honda||+47’26|
|6||VAN BEVEREN Adrien||FRA||Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team||Yamaha||+48’24|
|7||DE SOULTRAIT Xavier||FRA||Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team||Yamaha||+56’53|
|8||CORNEJO José Ignacio||CHI||Monster Energy Honda Team||Honda||+1:12’42|
|9||SHORT Andrew||USA||Husqvarna Factory Rally Team||Husqvarna||+1:16’11|
|10||SVITKO Stefan||SLO||Slovnaft Team||KTM||+2:07’23|
Today’s fifth and final stage will be divided into two timed sections, one of 128 kilometres and another of 70 kilometres to be played out in the mountain tracks of the Moroccan Atlas. After a total link of 259 kilometres, riders will find themselves back in Fez, the starting point of this edition.