Dakar heavyweights head to Rallye du Maroc for final tune-up

Le Toyota Hilux Overdrive © DR

Top contenders for Dakar Rally glory on two and four wheels are in Morocco this week for an offroad battle royale. The prestigious Rallye du Maroc will test racers and their machines over a punishing six-day schedule. A win in Northwest Africa is sure to put the victorious crew on pole position ahead of a trip to Peru next January to contest the 2019 Dakar.


There’s plenty of intrigue surrounding the new X-raid MINI JCW Team who arrive in Africa for their first taste of competitive racing. The all-Spanish crew of Carlos Sainz and co-driver Lucas Cruz and Frenchmen Cyril Despres and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret know all about winning on the dunes. This pair of multiple Dakar winning duos will each race their MINI John Cooper Works Buggy in Morocco.

« It feels good to be here in Morocco because it gives us the chance to race our MINI John Cooper Works Buggy. The testing has been going on throughout the year, but now it’s time to race. » – Carlos Sainz

It’s not just the the X-raid MINI JCW Team that are bringing Dakar heavyweights to Morocco. The Rallye du Maroc is the penultimate round of the 2018 FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup, and Polish racer Kuba Przygonski and Belgian co-driver Tom Colsoul are on the cusp of clinching victory in their own MINI machine.

« We need to get to the finish line in Morocco, if we do the World Cup is ours. » – Kuba Przygonski

Also looking to make his presence felt in a star-studded car race line-up is two-time Dakar champion Nasser Al-Attiyah in his Toyota Hilux. The Qatari driver and French co-driver Mathieu Baumel are looking forward to racing against the X-raid MINI JCW Team in South America. This week’s demanding Rallye du Maroc course will give us a glimpse at how things could play out in Peru next year.

Over in the bike race at Rallye du Maroc, the Red Bull KTM Factory Team arrive with all guns blazing. KTM’s own trio of Dakar champions are Matthias Walkner, Sam Sunderland and Toby Price. Their team-mate Laia Sanz, top female rider, will not be making the trip to Morocco as she recovers from illness. This week’s racing in Morocco is part of KTM’s preparations to hopefully secure an 18th consecutive Dakar bike title.

« I’ve been riding in the dunes to test out the foot I injured in August. Everything feels good and I’m ready to race in Morocco. » – Sam Sunderland

The 2018 Rallye du Maroc gets started on Thursday, October 4 with a 10-kilometre prologue stage on the dunes around Fes. Then the distance increases dramatically for the next five days of racing with 342km against the clock on the penultimate stage.

The final stage takes place on Tuesday, October 9 with a timed special of 198km bringing the convoy back to Fes. Then we’ll find out who will be crowned champion and earn themselves the pre-race favourites tag ahead of next January’s Dakar Rally.

Carlos Sainz: « It feels good to be here in Morocco because it gives us the chance to race our MINI John Cooper Works Buggy. The testing has been going on throughout the year, but now it’s time to race. There are things you can only learn about a car during race, so let’s see how we perform here. I’m convinced we’ll learn a lot at Rally du Maroc and second to that we’ll try to win. It’s a perfect opportunity for us. »

Cyril Despres: « Life has been really good to me and I enjoyed all the time I spent racing bikes, especially the wins. Now I’ve been given the chance to have this second career on four wheels and I’m excited to find out what more I can achieve. When I see guys who are older than me still enjoying themselves in our sport, I think I would like to continue for some time yet. »

Kuba Przygonski: « The scenario I want to avoid is not winning the World Cup. For that to happen my closest rival Vladimir Vasiliev has to win and I don’t reach the finish line. If we cross the finish line, the World Cup is ours. Also, if Vasiliev doesn’t win the World Cup is ours. I’m very comfortable with the situation we find ourselves in. At Baja Poland we could have eased off but we took risks and came away with a great victory. In Morocco we’ll take the same approach, we want to win this one as well. »

Jordi Viladoms, Red Bull KTM Factory Team Rally Sport Manager: « Morocco marks the last race before the Dakar Rally. It’s a good chance to make sure the bike and the team are working well and of course learn as much as we can in order to arrive at the Dakar as strong as possible. As such, all the riders and team members will be present at the Rally du Maroc, with the exception of Laia (Sanz) who is unfortunately still unwell. »

Christina Gaither,