Hero MotoSports Team Rally, the motorsport team of the world’s largest manufacturer of motorcycles and scooters – Hero MotoCorp, successfully concluded their campaign at the 2023 edition of Sonora Rally, with both riders finishing in the top 10 positions.
Ross Branch and Sebastian Buhler who represented Team Hero MotoSports at their first outing in North America, crossed the finish line of the rally securing the 7th and 10th overall positions respectively.
Sonora Rally which debuted in Mexico 9 years ago was inducted into the 2023 FIM World Rally Raid Championship (W2RC) – a key milestone for both the Rally and W2RC. This is the first time the Championship entered Mexico, and hence it became a leap into unknown territory for several international W2RC competitors.
Set in Sonora, the second-largest state of Mexico, and featuring the hottest desert in North America – the Sonora Rally was spread across 5 stages covering over 2,300 km, half of which formed the timed sections. It started in the capital city of Hermosillo a week ago with the scrutineering and technical checks, and getting the competitors accustomed to the subtropical climate of the region. The 5 stages took the competitors on a northward course to finish in San Luis Rio Colorado, a city close to the US-Mexico border. Resembling the Dakar, each day of the race introduced the competitors to varied terrains of the vast Sonoran Desert – ranging from flat ranchlands to soft dunes, open beaches, and riverbeds. The competitors were also offered magnificent views of the Sea of Cortez on two days, even as they tried to maintain their high speeds on the sandy beachfronts. Dust, centuries old Saguaro cacti, low mountain ranges, and broken pistes remained constant all week.
Ross Branch, even though new to the Mexican terrain, showcased a consistent performance all through the week, making it to the top-10 in all but one stages of the Rally. In the final stage, he finished with the 8th fastest time, and earned the 7th overall position in the Rally.
Sebastian Buhler too, made continuous improvements to move up the leaderboard with each stage. Even though the difficult terrain and some time losses dampened his spirit early on in the race, the German athlete showed great resilience and finished strong, earning the 10th spot in the overall rankings table.
For Hero MotoSports, this was a step into the unknown, as they entered their first race in the North American continent. Unlike other teams, Hero riders lacked any knowledge of the terrain, the track conditions and the rhythm of the Sonora Rally. However, the confident team learnt quickly, caught up with their competitors, and fought well until the last kilometer.
The Hero MotoSports team will now focus on training and preparing for the rest of the World Championship. Coming up in August, the Desafio Ruta 40 in Argentina is their next challenge, followed by Rallye Du Maroc in October.
Wolfgang Fischer, Team Manager: « It’s our first time here in Mexico, and we’re happy to finish well, without any technical issues or crashes. We suffered a bit with the fact that it’s our first, but we still managed to learn quickly and tried to catch up with the other teams who were already exposed to this terrain in the past.
It’s a shame that the race route was changed quite a lot from the initial plan, so we missed a lot of the nice big dunes in the northern part of Mexico. Even though it wasn’t really the complete rally we expected, the organizers still did their best to make it a good race.
« I look forward to bringing back the team in the best shape to Argentina for the next round, the Ruta 40. Thanks to all our teams, partners and fans for their continued support and motivation. »
Ross Branch: « Happy to be in one piece at the finish of my first Sonora Rally. I really enjoyed the race in this new terrain. Not the overall result I was expecting to achieve, but we will keep on working and keep pushing towards the goal. I’m looking forward to the next race in Argentina in a few months’ time. »
Sebastian Buhler: « Overall, it was a really nice rally, even though it was a completely new terrain for some of us in the Championship. So I took a little bit of time to get into the rhythm, but I feel I kept improving day by day, and was able to enjoy the race. Now I’ll focus on reaching Argentina in the best shape for Ruta 40. »
Final Rankings – Stage 5 (Rally GP Class) : 1. Daniel Sanders, Red Bull Gas Gas Factory Racing, 1h 14m 01s ; 2. Tosha Schareina, Honda Team, + 2m 41s ; 3. Luciano Benavides, Husqvarna Factory Racing, + 2m 53s… 8. Ross Branch, Hero MotoSports Team Rally, + 6m 09s… 10. Sebastian Buhler, Hero MotoSports Team Rally, + 8m 18s…
Overall Rankings after Stage 5 (Rally GP Class): 1. Daniel Sanders, Red Bull Gas Gas Factory Racing, 11h 01m 09s ; 2. Tosha Schareina, Honda Team, + 8m 23s ; 3. Luciano Benavides, Husqvarna Factory Racing, + 17m 16s… 7. Ross Branch, Hero MotoSports Team Rally, + 30m 07s… 10. Sebastian Buhler, Hero MotoSports Team Rally, + 41m 01s…