Helder Rodrigues got Team HRC off to a strong start in Morocco, coming in as the fastest rider through Stage 1.
Day 1 of the 2012 OiLibya Rally of Morocco wrapped with Team HRC’s Helder Rodrigues earning the top spot as the only rider to come in under three hours. The win also roundly proclaims Honda’s return to rally racing as the marque debuts its new factory team. 2012’s Cross-Country Rallies champion and Dakar veteran Marc Coma of KTM came in just over a minute behind Rodrigues in second, followed by his teammate Cyril Despres an additional minute back in third.
“I’m very happy with this result, winning the first stage in my first race with a new machine and a new team is a great satisfaction,” said Rodrigues. “This is just the first day but it’s nice to start on top. The CRF450 Rally is working well, we have a very good base and this race is also good for testing before the Dakar, which is our target.”
Stage 1 took riders through all manner of terrain, from the fast, rocky sections early on, then to desert sands, water crossings and steep descents into canyons before rounding back to the bivouac near Erfoud. The Morocco Rally, though not part of the World Championship, has become a testing ground for teams and riders gearing up for the Dakar Rally in January 2013.
Coma recently commented on the importance of Morocco for riders with an eye toward Dakar.
“The moment of truth is arriving and the Morocco Rally will be a perfect training,” said Coma. “We will use it to test all the material we will use at the Dakar, as well as our level of preparation.
“The desert where the Morocco Rally takes place and the one at the Dakar are similar. There are differences, but we will find very tough conditions, as it is a desert with extreme temperatures, dunes, sand and many rocks. In short, it is the closer terrain we have that is most similar to what we will find at the Dakar.”
Coma and Despres proved to be well prepared for the extreme conditions in Morocco, as fourth-place finisher Joan Barreda of Husqvarna trailed over 10 minutes behind. Paolo Goncalves, Barreda’s teammate, was an additional three minutes back in fifth. Both Goncalves and Barrera made navigational errors that cost mileage and time during the day.
“I was a bit disappointed with today,” said Barreda. “I got away well and was leading a third of the way into the special test. Then I misread some stretches and ended up adding on a few kilometres that made me lose 10 or so minutes. As far as the rest is concerned, it went well. The bike’s going really well, and here what counts is being consistent and not making mistakes.”
Stage 2 will follow a similar course as Stage 1 and riders will be challenged to not follow tracks already laid down, but to keep a keen eye on navigation and course markers since a small deviation from course can result in valuable minutes lost.
OiLibya Rally of Morocco Stage 1 Results 2012:
1. Helder Rodrigues (Honda) 2:59.50
2. Marc Coma (KTM) 3:01.02
3. Cyril Despres (KTM) 3:02.10
4. Joan Barreda (Husqvarna) 3:10.31
5. Paulo Goncalves (Husqvarna) 3:13.26