Italian Yamaha rider Alessandro Botturi regained the outright lead with the fastest time on the third 497.44km selecticve section of the 12th Africa Eco Race (Monaco-Dakar) between Mhimid and Assa in central Morocco on Thursday.
Overnight leader Pal-Anders Ullesvalseter opened the road, but was not able to fend off Botturi and Felix Jensen, as they battled throughout the early kilometres for the two-wheel lead with the Norwegian holding the advantage and Botturi hitting the front through the second and third passage controls when Jensen rode cautiously on his third African Eco Race appearance to preserve his wheels on the rocky terrain. Ullesvalseter and Botturi duly rode together from the refuelling point to the finish.
The Italian held on to claim the stage win from Ullesvalseter by 4min 13sec and regained an outright lead of 2min 44sec over his rival. Jensen came home in third to move up to a similar position in the overall standings and Lyndon Poskitt (KTM) and Paulo Lucci (Husqvarna) rounded off the top five, with Poskitt riding conservatively to the finish after surviving a small fall in the dunes. The Polish duo of Jacek Czachor and young Konrad Dabrowski maintained sixth and seventh overall.
It was a good stage for the French rider Norbery Dubois, who was celebrating his 60th birthday on a KTM and started the stage in 43rd, finished 13th and moved up 21 places in the overall standings to be the leading French rider in 16th position.
Mexican rider Juan Pablo Guillen achieved an excellent performance in the over-450cc category and climbed 47 places. He won the section that has been dominated thus far by Italy’s Franco Picco in 13th overall. Dutch rider Stephan Savelkouls won the Motul Extreme Rider section of Malles Motos, but Briton Richard Kaye leads overall in 21st place.
After SSVs had dominated day one and trucks came to the fore on stage two, Yves and Jean Fromont carded the best time of 6hr 00min 54sec in the car and truck section in their T1 Tarek Buggy and duly moved into a lead of just 53 seconds over the Skania truck crew of Miklos Kovacs, Lazlo Acs and Peter Czegledi.
The Hungarian trio set the third quickest time and managed to stay 63 second ahead of the third-placed T1 Mercedes of Patrick and Lucas Martin, who emerged unscathed from two small crashes in the Erg Chegaga dunes.
The Hungarians even found time for an incredible sporting gesture and lost out on the potential stage win by assisting the Belgian Iveco truck trio of Igor Bowens, Ulrich Boerboom and Frits Driesmans in the sand dunes. The Belgians were, therefore, able to maintain fourth overall and second in the truck section at the night halt after the support of their arch rivals for T4 honours. Noël Essers, Marc Lauwers and Tijs Vranken hold third in T4 in their MAN.
Alexandre Dubanne held on to a 2min 55sec advantage in the SSV category with his Can-Am, despite dropping 10 minutes to rival Loic Frebourg on the day’s demanding desert stage that crossed the notorious sand dunes of the Erg Chegaga. Paraplegic Geoffroy Noel de Burlin is racing alone in his Polaris, set the 10th quickest time and holds a stunning 11th in the general classification.
The third car in the overall standings is the 14th-placed Ford Raptor of the Russian duo of Alexey Titov and Dmitry Pavlov, who also lead the T2 section for series-production cross-country vehicles. Several competitors were expected to arrive at the bivouac late on Thursday evening.
The Portuguese duo of Fernando and Nuno Barreiros suffered serious transmission issues on the second stage into Mhamid and arrived at the bivouac with their Isuzu on a truck. The D-Max arrived at the bivouac at 05.00hrs and the car was repaired in time for the crew to start the next stage.
Tomorrow (Friday January 10th), the Africa Eco Race caravan heads deep into the south of Morocco with the day’s route including a 385.38km selective section between Assa and Sidi Laroussi and a short link section to the bivouac in Smara.
WHAT THEY SAID:
Pal-Anders Ullesvalseter (KTM – 106):
”We are only at the start of the rally. There are still a lot of things that can happen. Today, Lyndon has planted himself in the dunes. Sometimes I wanted to push even more, but I know that on such a long stage anything can happen. It is, therefore, very important to arrive at the bivouac while still being competitive for the future.”
Alessandro Botturi (Yamaha – 101):
”Today, I tried to attack from the start. At kilometre 50, I caught up with Pal-Anders. Then I had a road book problem. It was not spinning. So, I got to the refuel with Pal. Then, from kilometre 250, I tried to attack even more. Together, we tried to keep a good pace. But Pal, he's a Viking. It is good. And finally, it's good because we managed to widen the gap with the others. It was very important for me to do this because, tomorrow, they will leave behind me and we will see what it will give.”
Franck Boulay – (Can-Am – 260):
”We are very happy because we have done very well. We drove well too and had no mechanical problems. We passed the dunes well. After the sand, we found a lot of stones. It was tiring and the stage was very long. We are happy to be at the finish line and to have fulfilled the objective of not breaking the machine and not getting lost. And, in addition, we arrive well classified. We are tired, but happy!”
Yves Fromont – (Buggy – 200):
”It was a nice special as we like it, with this Erg from Chegaga, which was not easy. We overtook the lead trucks in the dunes. Then, we managed well, especially in navigation which was quite tough since we were behind the motorcycles. Jean really did a perfect navigation. I'm happy because we really did an excellent job together. I played my part in the dunes. And then, after, it was he who did the job in navigation. It was perfect!”
8. Karoly Fazekas/Albert Horn/Peter Csakany (HUN) Skania (T4) 12hr 27min 40sec, etc
Source: Neil Perkins / Africa Eco Race press release