The ultra-tough six-day Merzouga Rally has finally come to an end after 1,000km of timed racing through the deserts of Morocco. Hélder Rodrigues, a familiar face with rally-raid fans around the world, came close to a second podium finish of the season as harsh conditions pushed man and machine to the limit.
Extreme heat in excess of 40 degrees and perilous dune crossings characterised the offroad contest in North Africa, part of the 2016 Dakar Series. As a former Merzouga winner the challenges may not have come as a surprise to Hélder, but it was clear from the outset he would have to be at his best to get the better of a world class field of opponents.
Faultless riding on the first three days of the event propelled Hélder to second place in the overall classification amid dramatic sandstorms out on the course. Stage four saw the Portuguese rider suffer a setback as he lost his way during one of the Merzouga’s many navigational tests. Hélder battled back from this disappointment, attempting to reestablish himself on the podium during a loop of the Yasmina dry lake on the final day of racing.
It was also a bittersweet ride for fellow Red Bull Desert Wings squad member CS Santosh. A stunning Top 10 result in the Prologue Stage put the Merzouga rookie in the first wave of riders opening the road as the rally headed out into the dunes. Santosh fell victim to the tough navigational challenges within the dunes and dropped down the rankings as a result.
The Indian biker was able to gradually climb the leaderboard during the remaining four days of racing, all the while gaining valuable Dakar Rally experience as he plans a return visit to South America in 2017.
The Merzouga Rally also served as a great learning experience for the next generation of rally-raid bikers as they contested the Dakar Challenge. The Dakar’s own Sporting Director (and five-time winner of the race) Marc Coma was on hand every step of the way to guide emerging talents through the week-long event.
Be it Hélder challenging for top honours, Santosh climbing his way up the leaderboard or fresh talents learning the rally-raid ropes we salute all the brave bikers who made it over the line at the 2016 Merzouga Rally.
Hélder Rodrigues: « I put a lot into the third stage where I managed to climb to second in the overall. Unfortunately, 120km into the fourth special stage I made a navigational mistake, which forced me to lose a lot of time. I believe this rally has been the perfect test for us. We’ve learned a lot, and we continue to get stronger as the races go on. I have a great feeling on my bike so I’m really looking forward to the races to come. »
CS Santosh: « Wednesday was one of the toughest days of racing I’ve had. The organisers told us it was going to be demanding and it sure was. Things were eventually cut short because of the weather and this was the right decision. When we started racing again things were going well, but then I made a mistake in the navigation and that cost me a lot of time. »