Libya Rally Stage 7: Counting the seconds at the finish

Podium motos de l'Africa Race © Alain Rossignol

Stopwatches were on overtime at the finish of the Libya Rally. In all three main classes the differences looked big enough at the start of the seventh and final stage, but in the end it was all set upside down. Mirjam Pol lost her victory in the bikes class, Martin van den Brink grabbed victory in the truck class and in the car category victory went to Jerome Renaud but just by a few minutes.


Mirjam Pol looked to be certain of winning the Libya Rally when she took off in Matarka this morning with a margin of an hour. But on her way she lost an hour and 20 minutes when the ignition of her bike broke. She was helped by fellow Dutch rider Erik Klomp, who sacrificed his ignition to help Pol to the finish, but it took the pair just a bit too long.

In the end Pol even missed out on the podium by seconds. ?At the start I already had a problem to start my bike, but in the stage it ran well until it simply stopped running with some 60 kms to go. We worked like idiots to fix it and I’m really proud we made it. I’m thankful to Erik he sacrificed himself to help me. I just left him there and had to overtake trucks and cars to the finish. That probably cost me a podium finish, but I’m happy after all that I finished the rally. I had a great week and I would have loved to win, but this is part of the game as well.?

Unexpected podium
With Pol in trouble it was a question who would be the lucky one. Belgian Gilles Vanderweyen, Briton Max Hunt or Swede Michael Lundberg, who was first at the finish of the stage. ?It was a very nice stage and I have the rally as a whole, but I cannot imagine to have won. This was only my first rally in Africa, the first time in the dunes, the first time with such long stages with hard navigation. I had a good week for sure, with little problems, but winning ? I’m not sure I deserved it.?

Gilles Vanderweyen started the day in second, with Max Hunt on his tail. ?Mirjam would be the right winner,? Vanderweyen said. ?Me winning would be a huge surprise.? Also Max Hunt could not imagine winning or even finishing on the podium. ?Today is the first stage I didn’t miss a waypoint. I’ve lost half an hour on penalties every day because of that. It’s only my second rally. The podium would be wonderful, but that’s about it. I feel really sorry for Mirjam. She is an excellent rider. I tried following her, but every time I lost her again.?

After waiting and waiting for Pol it became clear victory is for Lundberg, with Vanderweyen in second and Hunt in third.

Mechanical problem costs Bouwens
Little over 22 minutes was what Martin van den Brink had to make up in the final stage to beat Igor Bouwens. The duo set off for a fierce duel and changed positions a few times. Van den Brink lost some 10 minutes in the early stages due to a navigational error, and was convinced and pissed off he had lost.

But Bouwens didn’t show up. Van den Brink knew he needed 34 minutes to beat the Belgian: 22 minutes difference to overcome and 12 minutes difference between the starts of the both. So the stopwatches were pulled out of pockets and clocks were watched closely. 12.01 was the critical hour: would Bouwens be there before that time, he would win. If he would be later, it was Van den Brink’s.

Only at quarter past 12 the Iveco showed up, leaning over to one side and obviously damaged. « I’m still surprised we actually finished, » Bouwens said. « We took a wrong way twice and then the rudder broke. We couldn’t drive and we knew we had lost. We tried to fix it anyway and as fast as possible because Martin could have a problem too without us knowing. It was a pretty exciting day like this. I’m satisfied with second place. For me it was the first time in a rally truck. We build it ourselves and bought an engine from Dakar winner Gerard de Rooy. This result is more than I could have dreamt of. »

For Martin van den Brink it was a surprise too. In stage 6 he made up 51 minutes, but he didn’t expect to overcome a gap of 22 minutes anymore. « It wasn’t a stage to make big differences. We made a few mistakes ourselves and got away lucky when a local truck crossed the track in the dust. It was a close call. At the finish we counted down the seconds. I think we deserved to win this rally. We were clearly the fastest truck and if we would have lost, it would have been due to penalties. »

In the end it turned out Van den Brink wins the Libya Rally with an advantage of 8 minutes and 5 seconds, with Igor Bouwens in second and Aart Schoones in third.

Close call with the cars as well
Some uncertainty about the difference at the beginning of the stage between Frenchman Jerome Renaud and Belgian Vincent Thijs was a critical point at the finish. If the gap had been 10 minutes, Thijs would win. If the gap had been 28 minutes, Renaud would win.

« This is very stressful and I refuse to believe I might have won the rally before it is officially confirmed, » Renaud said. He even refused to cheer yet. The Frenchman worked his way up in the standings without many people noticing, but with his experience it isn’t the biggest surprise. He competed in the OiLibya Rally twice and did the Dakar in 2007 on a motorbike. This Libya Rally is his first. « Tougher than I expected, » he said. « And therefore I could not imagine winning. »

But he did. Belgian Vincent Thijs obviously was disappointed but realized it was such a close call it depended on little details. « A rally is about navigation, driving, mechanical things. There are a lot of small details that are essential in the end. Was it a navigational mistake that made the difference » Was it a puncture » Actually it doesn’t matter as ‘what if’ doesn’t count and the result is based on the sum of things. »

Michiel Becx finishes in third overall and first in the SSV class. « Really happy with that, » he said. « We had no problems at all with our Yamaha. We finished on the same four tyres we started with. There are a few exceptional fast buggies in this race and that’s why it is extra special we won. Our intention was to step on the pedal until it broke, but it didn’t and we had great fun on top of that. I just told my wife this Libya Rally was one of the best weeks ever in my life. That says something as well. »

Alain Weerts,