The dunes of Morocco provided plenty of reasons to be cheerful ahead of next year’s Dakar Rally for the Red Bull Desert Wings this week. Two-time Dakar car category winner Nasser Al-Attiyah showed his pace over the sand to claim his third consecutive Rallye du Maroc victory while reigning Dakar bike race champion Toby Price won the two wheel contest in Morocco.
Qatar’s Al-Attiyah and his French co-driver Mathieu Baumel got things off to the perfect start on Morocco’s Atlantic coastline as they won the prologue and first two timed special stages. The duo used this position of strength to bring their Toyota Hilux home in first place against a field of world class opposition.
The next best car crew at the Rallye du Maroc turned out to be the all-Spanish pairing of Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz as they gave the Peugeot 3008 DKR its first competitive outing. A win on the rally’s third stage proved that Team Peugeot Total’s new machine has all the pace required to compete with its rivals in the desert, but eventually one too many navigational errors cost Sainz and Cruz the chance to catch Al-Attiyah and Baumel. The Spaniards eventually settled for a respectable runners-up finish.
The second Team Peugeot Total crew of Cyril Despres and David Castera endured a first stage in Morocco that neither of the Frenchmen will forget in a hurry. The pair suffered an accident just 12 kilometres from the start of the race that caused their Peugeot 2008 DKR to roll four times. Once Peugeot mechanics had worked through the night the car was back on the road for stage two, but any hopes of a podium finish had disappeared due to the time lost on the opening stage. Despres and Castera worked hard for the rest of the week and were rewarded with a stage win on the fifth and final day of racing.
As a five-time winner of the Dakar bike race Despres knows plenty about the intense two wheel competition at rally raid events. At this year’s Rallye du Maroc it was a straight shootout between Red Bull KTM Factory Team members Toby Price and Sam Sunderland. Australia’s Price took an early lead in the contest but things turned around during the penultimate stage when Sunderland rose to the top of the leaderboard.
The final stage of racing in Morocco saw a pulsating battle between Price and Sunderland play out over the sand. Britain’s Sunderland gave it everything he had but reigning Dakar champion Price produced trademark speed to take the win. The leading duo’s KTM team-mate Matthias Walkner of Austria recovered from a poor start to the rally to finish seventh overall while Portugal’s Hélder Rodrigues parked his Yamaha in fourth place.
With plenty of encouraging results collected at Rallye du Maroc confidence is high in the Red Bull Desert Wings squad that more glory can be achieved at next year’s Dakar.
Nasser Al-Attiyah: It was a tough week of racing because so many times we had to open the road. We concentrated on finding a good speed each day and doing the best job we could to make time on our rivals wherever we could. There were some interesting navigation sections and Mathieu did a great job all week. This year we have won six races with our Toyota so I’m really happy with the performance and how our preparation for the next Dakar is going.
Carlos Sainz: We faced fierce competition here and it’s nice to have this sort of battle ahead of January’s Dakar. The Peugeot 3008 DKR is a well-sorted car. It is competitive and efficient. We have made progress in every domain. The team is working well and heading in the right direction.
Cyril Despres: It’s turning out to be a year of firsts for David and me. We were caught out by a hazard that was indicated in the roadbook shortly after the start of the first stage and that sent us into a roll. It gave us a bit of a scare but we were OK. The car was too damaged for it to be repaired on the stage, however, so that prevented us from going any further. Thanks to the passionate and ultra-professional Peugeot Sport mechanics we were back in the race the following day and we have gained more experience here in Morocco. This week has been a good way for us to work on our concentration.