Stage 6, The Unseen tracks, 285 km in total, 219 km Special stage
A thrilling final stage saw Paulo Gonçalves win the Morocco Rally. It was a complicated affair with a lot of challenging navigation and many chances to make mistakes. The Portuguese rider was pushing hard and was able to handle the Honda CRF450 RALLY with great skill, and eased through the most high-pressure moments, arriving at the halfway point ahead of his nearest rival Marc Coma. Gonçalves takes the crown of World Championship FIM Cross-Country Rallies.
Joan Barreda started the day from first position, but a fall a few kilometres into the race damaged his road-book. In spite of this setback and not knowing the correct route, he was able to continue, following in the tracks of the riders that had overtaken him. He finally came in ninth, finishing in third overall place on the championship podium.
The other Portuguese rider from TEAM HRC, Hélder Rodrigues rode an excellent second place in the final stage of the rally. British rider Sam Sunderland, who set out in second behind Barreda, made a navegational error and finished in thirteenth. In spite of this, Sunderland took an overall fifth final place.
“Speedy” Goncalves aboard his HRC Honda and KTM pilot Coma produced a nail-biter on the closing 219 kilometre long special stage, with the lead and therefore the virtual title outcome changing several times. In the end, after one of the most dramatic finishes in the recent history of raid rally racing, Goncalves prevailed by winning the rally – and capturing his first-ever world championship. The Portuguese finished today´s stage in fifth position, one place ahead of Coma, sealing the crown by 3:50 minutes over his Catalan competitor.
Paulo Goncalves: “I´m over the moon to clinch the title at the final race for Speedbrain. We´ve shown before at the previous five races that we have the winning speed everywhere. The team has always done a great job, we were able to keep the title fight open with our Speedbrain bike against World Champ Marc Coma all the way until this week´s final showdown. It´s even more exciting to have my team prepare our new Honda CRF450 Rally in the usual perfect way. It gave me the confidence to attack. I began today´s final stage with a very small advantage and managed to keep it. It was a super narrow title decision, I had to give it all. Many thanks to Speedbrain and to Honda for the brilliant bike, also to my friend and teammate Joan Barreda for his perfect teamplay.”
Joan Barreda: “Congratulations to Paulo! I´m extremely pumped for him, being able to earn the rewards of a very strong and consistent season. For myself it was important to see where I stand after nine months not competing in rally racing. I trained hard and I´m happy to win three stages and to finish the race on the podium. Morocco is a tough and tight race. It´s good to see I could help Paulo. Today I wanted to go to the front, but I hit the ground soon after the start and lost minutes while repairing my bike. I came from behind and was able to get back to the front before my navigation device stopped working as a result of the crash. Marc could pass and take second place away from me.”
Goncalves won two of the six stages in Morocco, his teammate Joan Barreda won three stages. The Iberian Speedbrain Honda pair dominated the proceedings from the word go, shocking the field with their speed and coolness. The title win is a remarkable feat for Speedbrain mastermind Wolfgang Fischer and his whole crew as well as for Honda, who returned to rally racing with an official factory effort just 15 months ago.
Three times Dakar Rally winner Marc Coma wrapped up his week’s campaign in the OilLibya Rally of Morocco on Saturday, narrowly missing first place overall by three minutes 44 to eventual winner Paolo Goncalves of Portugal. Coma also placed second in the 2013 World Cross Countries Rallies Championship.
But while Coma had to concede overall victory after a hard fought battle, the event was still a very strong result overall for both the KTM Factory Team and its support riders. They all delivered impressive results, and above all, were extremely pleased with the performance of the newly rolled out KTM 450 Rally factory bike, which made its first competitive appearance in Morocco.
Factory Team Manager Alex Doringer was particularly upbeat at the end of the event: “The positive thing is that our new bike really proved the quality it is! I am super pumped and very proud of what we have built. Dakar is coming soon and we are on the right track to fight for another victory.” Doringer added that in the Dakar 2014, KTM expected good performances from its factory team (Coma, Chaleco Lopez, Ruben Faria and Kurt Caselli) and from support riders Ben Grabham of Australia and South African Riaan van Niekerk
The week also ended on a high for Grabham (KTM Australia) when he won the final stage and jumped three places in the overall standings from ninth to sixth. Also for Caselli, the team’s American rider who was third in Stage Six just 2 minute 41 behind the leader Grabham and seventh overall despite having picked up a 20 minute penalty on the opening day for missing a Waypoint.
Coma had started strongly on the final day in what was perhaps the most difficult stage of this year’s edition and had almost trimmed his time deficit completely when things went sour after CP1. Even Coma’s rich experience was not enough to make up the time after he made a navigation error. By CP2 he had conceded 2’40” to Gonclaves and by the end of the stage he trailed his rival by 3’44”, still good enough to secure second place in both the rally and the World Championship.
After missing the Dakar 2013 through a shoulder injury from the Morocco Rally in 2012, Coma had started the World Championship series strongly by winning the first three rounds in United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Sardinia. With podiums in the South American rounds, he then went into the final round with a narrow three-point lead over Goncalves.
The Morocco Rally was also a strong event for factory rider Chaleco Lopez, who despite some difficulties on the final day finished fourth overall, and for both Caselli and Grabham. Caselli was drafted in at the last minute to race for the injured Coma in Dakar 2013 and has since been named as a full factory rider for KTM. Grabham also made his Dakar Rally debut in 2013, a remarkable feat as just one year before he had suffered serious back injuries when he hit a kangaroo at high speed in an offroad event in Australia. Grabham is one of the most highly decorated offroad riders in Australia and is a KTM Australia support rider. Support rider Riaan van Niekerk of South Africa was also promising, steadily moving up the overall standings after each stage to finally finish twelfth. The unluckiest member of the team was factory rider Ruben Faria of Portugal who was still dealing with the consequences of a fractured hand from the Rally dos Sertoes in Brazil in August. He was experiencing a lot of pain and rider and team jointly decided after Stage Three that he should withdraw to concentrate on getting fit for the Dakar.
Results Stage 6:
1. Ben Grabham (AUS, KTM) 2:26:39 hrs
2. Helder Rodrigues (PRT, Honda) +00:01:18
3. Kurt Caselli (USA, KTM) +00:02:41
4. Jeremias Israel (CHL, Speedbrain) +00:03:00
5. Paulo Goncalves (PRT, Honda) +00:04:56
6. Marc Coma (ESP, KTM) +00:08:26
7. Frans Verhoeven (NLD, Yamaha) +00:11:06
8. Alessandro Botturi (ITA, Speedbrain) +00:16:40
9. Joan Barreda (ESP, Honda) +00:17:14
10. Olivier Pain (FRA, Yamaha) +00:18:35
Overall Results OiLibya Rally Morocco 2013:
1. Paulo Goncalves (PRT, Honda) 17:08:59 hrs
2. Marc Coma (ESP, KTM) +00:03:44
3. Joan Barreda (ESP, Honda) +00:07:39
4. Chaleco Lopez (CHL, KTM) +00:32:58
5. Sam Sunderland (GBR, Honda) +00:45:57
6. Ben Grabham (AUS, KTM) +00:55:08
7. Kurt Caselli (USA, KTM) +01:04:32
8. Olivier Pain (FRA, Yamaha) +01:06:09
9. Alessandro Botturi (ITA, Speedbrain) +01:08:58
10. Frans Verhoeven (NLD, Yamaha) +01:41:38