The ultimate stage here in Morocco of the AFRICA ECO RACE was the longest from a leg point of view with 453km. It was also the hardest from a navigation point of view, if all went well for the four wheel vehicles, a couple of riders suffered. In both cases all the competitors arrived safely at the Bivouac set up on the Atlantic Ocean beach of Dakhla, where the caravan will stay for the rest day this Sunday. A much appreciated rest day, after a hard week on the Moroccan tracks.
René METGE warned everyone during the briefing that the navigation was going to be the key feature of this leg from Remz El Quebir to the petrol town of Jreififa. Once again the Race Director of the AFRICA ECO RACEwas correct again, as we got the chance to have to watch many competitors going round in circles desperately trying to find the correct route to go to CP1, and this created an out of the common and surprising ranking. Even the mighty Pal Anders ULLEVALSETER got caught out and went into the wrong direction. After this navigation glimpse, the Norwegian managed a 4th win in a row with over 40 minutes to the second rider.
The most surprising in this story was the riders front the bottom of the ranking who managed to gain an advantage in been low in the ranking. As we can see the first 20 riders all went off into wrong direction, and took lost valuable time to find their way again. The riders from the bottom of the field where caught up by the first cars, who started 30 minutes after them. This enabled them to follow the dust of the cars and trucks, who caught them up one by one and then stay on the correct track throughout the leg. As a result the Kazakh Yevgeniya NESTEROVA, who had a membership to the balai truck since the start of the rally, finishes 2nd in front of the Portuguese rider José Fernando MOREIRA DE SOUSA JR, Stefano CHIUSSI and Joakim LUNDBY, who the two day before suffered a bit crash and just started racing that morning.
The rider with the worse luck of the day was Andrew NEWLAND who finishes 23rd almost 3 hours behind the leader. This means he has lost his 2nd place in the overall ranking, passing it on to Anastasiya NIFONTOVA, who was delayed by a small fall and by her navigation equipment not working correctly. Her compatriot Dmitry AGOSHKOV is now 3rd, only 4 minutes behind her, and the two Frenchmen Stéphane HAMARD and Norbert DUBOIS are 4th and 5th. It is interesting to point out that from the 4th place to the 9th place there is only a 30 minute gap, the second week will be very interesting to follow!
Since the start of the 8th [aer][/aer], the Kazakh MOBILEX Team is at the front with two stage wins for the HUMMER driven by Yuriy SAZONOV and with the win by Kanat SHAGIROV of this 5th stage behind the wheel of his TOYOTA. A success which has propelled him into the lead of the overall ranking.
A very good leg for Anton GRIGOROV with his OSCAR, who was far down in the start list, but was the author of a spectacular come back, the Russian spent a lot of the leg fighting with Mathieu SERRADORI, who finishes 3rd of the stage. With this podium finish, the Frenchman is back into 4th place overall, just under 15 minutes behind the OPTIMUS of Pascal THOMASSE, who is still very strong during the legs and he manages to place himself 5th of the day.
Staying with the top driving, we have the Hungarian Balazs SZALAY with the 6th time of the day, just in front of Jean Pierre STRUGO who is slowly climbing up the overall ranking and is now 5th.
As Team MD Rally Racing came very prepared, there are always many OPTIMUS buggies in the top end of the ranking. During this ultimate Moroccan stage, Philippe GOSSELIN shined by finishing 8th and beating his team mate Dominique HOUSIEAUX.
Finally in the T2 category, the FORD Raptor of Russian Alexander TERENTYEV managed to get the stage win for the category by finishing 18th in the scratch ranking. He was faster than many T1s but also Joseph ROSSO in his NISSAN and Gilles GARD who managed to get onto the podium with hi MITSUBISHI driving under the colors for hi team “Un Dakar pour la vie”.
The trucks following the rhythm
For the first time since the start, the trucks were not invited to the leaders’ party during this 5th stage. Indeed Anton SHIBALOV, the overall leader of the category, finishes in only 12th place with a 30 minute gap to SHAGIROV, followed like his shadow by his Team KAMAZ team mate Sergey KUPRIANOV. This medium performance means he must give up the lead of the car / truck category, but keep his supremacy in the trucks.
Tomas TOMECEK, has visibly managed to fix his recent issues, and places his TATRA onto the stage podium. In the overall truck ranking, Elisabeth JACINTO, the Portuguese driver with her MAN is still comfortably in third place in this “Monaco Dakar”, just behind the two Russian KAMAZ.
After a rest day under the beautiful sun of Dakhla, this sand filled area surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean in the southern Morocco, the AFRICA ECO RACE caravan will enter Mauritania on Monday January 4th after the crossing of the two borders, there will be a traditionally small leg of 174km from Boulanouar and Chami. This will give the competitor a first impression of the Mauritanian sand which will follow them all the way to end of this rally.