A triumphant ending for Monster Energy Honda Team in Morocco. The Merzouga Rally closes with a final stage around Erg Chebbi with two of the Honda riders clinching the top prizes. Barreda, the winner, and Benavides, the runner-up, won five or the six stages disputed.
The final special of the Merzouga Rally, at just over 40 kilometres long, was a spectacular one, with one hundred riders making a mass line-start. Argentine Kevin Benavides reached the finish line conceding a mere three seconds to the final stage winner, Pablo Quintanilla. This guaranteed the rider second place on the overall leader board. Joan Barreda kept his rivals in check all the way from the en masse start and cruised to overall victory in the 2018 Merzouga Rally with a sixth place finish on the day.
Meanwhile American Ricky Brabec completed a successful rally, finishing in fifth position and young Chilean prospect José Ignacio Cornejo sealed an eighth final place, crossing the line hot on the heels of Brabec in this final stage. Portuguese Paulo Gonçalves, growing ever stronger, followed his rivals, yet in spite of finishing among the leading pack, was unable to improve on his overall twelfth position.
Monster Energy Honda Team will be back in competition when they tackle the Atacama Rally from August 11th to 19th for the third round of the FIM Cross-Country Rally World Championship.
Kevin Benavides – STAGE: 2nd FINAL: 2nd : « We finished the stage with Quintanilla which meant that I finished second overall. I go home very happy after winning three of the six stages. It was a very good race for me without any falls. The navigation mishaps were due to errors in the roadbook. I think I was never able to regain the time I lost on the first day, but I did well and battled hard every day to get a one-two for Honda. Congratulations to Joan and the entire Monster Energy Honda Team for the race. »
Paulo Goncalves – STAGE: 10th FINAL: 12ve : « It was a difficult race for me. The first day I lost 45 minutes, in addition to falling and lost any options of doing better. Physically I didn’t feel that good and I preferred to ride at a measured pace to not make any mistakes and aggravate the injuries that I am still recovering from. Today was a beautiful stage, with a fast pace out in the dunes. I felt pretty good, especially with the bike, which has worked perfectly on all types of terrain. Congratulations to our team-mates who finished first and second in the race. »
Joan Barreda – STAGE: 5th FINAL: 1st : « I am very happy to be back winning races again, especially because we can now forget about a year of injuries. There is still work to do to get back to 100% physically and be able to ride my way, without pain. That’s the way I like to do it: return to the competition like that, have a great race and finish with a win. This will serve as great motivation to keep pushing and reach the highest level by the end of the year. »
Ricky Brabec – STAGE: 8th FINAL: 5th : « It’s the final stage of an eventful rally which had some highs and lows. The rally started off well with a great first stage, and then there were some good ones up until the fourth stage. That was where many people all had the same problems with the roadbook. I managed, like some of the others, to make it through to the end with a few mistakes; but this is rallying where everyone makes a few errors. I lost time that day, but in the final stage I was able to make it up and ended up finishing just forty seconds off the podium. For me, that’s awesome and a confidence booster. I’m not totally happy with the overall result, but I’m pleased with the individual stages. Thanks to all. »
José Ignacio Cornejo – STAGE: 6th FINAL: 8th : « In this final stage we finished well and I was able to put yesterday’s bad stage behind me. I made a few mistakes. In general it was a good rally, we improved the speed race by race and so we keep moving up positions as the season goes on. It’s getting better and better and I’m happy about that. »
Raul Castells – Monster Energy Honda Team Manager : « We are very happy with an outcome that could hardly have been better here at the Merzouga Rally, with such a high level of participation. First and second places are incredible. We are positively surprised by the powerful return of Joan Barreda, whom we congratulate for the victory and who battled hard in each stage. Likewise we also congratulate Kevin Benavides, who has clinched second place winning three specials. We have seen the high level of riding from our team and although some had some issues with the navigation, they have fought hard to be at the top. Navigation has been an important factor and was very difficult in all the stages. It is very important to train and prepare the season well. We are pleased and we want to congratulate the whole team for their effort and results. We will continue to strive to achieve the best results. »