As organizer Gert Duson announced in his briefing the day before, the 4th stage of the 11th edition of the Morocco Desert Challenge was going to be rough. Navigation combined with technical tracks brought the competitors a special of the highest level. And this in a breathtaking scenery that shows the beauty of Moroccon desert.
It was one of the most difficult stages, whether in navigation or driving with very technical tracks. After a rather calm departure with numerous wadis, chotts and crossing of hills which make descend on the famous tracks of the Dakar. This year, race director Jean-Claude Kaket has found a brand new route that no rally has yet taken. Nevertheless, one had to beware of dust and pebbles with many passages in the fesh-fesh.
At halfway, the competitors then entered a military zone with numerous checkpoints. A large portion of "skipped trails" welcomed them. A portion that continues even after refueling where the tracks then become sandy and stony. The fastest vehicles had to rely on good suspensions to absorb shocks and not slow down. At this level of the stage, the navigation was also delicate and required a good attention on the roadbook.
The last part of the stage was more rolling and fluid than the rest with tracks along the hills and a beautiful valley very appreciated for the pilots who could take a lot of fun.
In summary, it was a long and difficult day full of challenges in both driving and sailing, something to enjoy with relief the arrival on the bivouac Foum Zguid.
The usual front runners Joan Pedrero and Skyler Howes also in the fourth stage ran away to build up a huge lead on the rest of the field. Number 3, Petr Vlcek, needed an hour more for the 390 kilometres than the duo.
“It was a complicated, long day,” Pedrero said. “The many stones and the camel grass at the end made it tough. I was happy that I am physically strong enough not to fall.” Pedrero and Howes rode together almost all the time. “We changed positions all the time,” Howes said. “If he made a mistake, I grabbed the lead again, if I stopped to look, he would come by again.”
The American found it especially mentally very demanding. “Imagine: five paths come together at one point, four go left and only one of those four is the right one. We often stopped to look.” Howes was happy that Pedrero was there and said he learned a lot from the Spaniard. “He is smart and has a lot of experience with navigation. He has shown me many little tricks that make navigation easier.”
From Wednesday on, more dunes will be part of the scenery and then driving together will be more difficult. The difference of only 50 seconds (now in favour of Pedrero) will then probably increase, one way or the other. For Howes, the assignment for the coming stages is clear: “Ride as fast as I can and make as little mistakes as I can.”
After a difficult third day, classification leader Erik van Loon started as the fifth car and behind a truck in the fourth stage. In the dust of other participants, the Dutchman had a total of four punctures. “We have experienced so much today,” he said at the finish, where he arrived first. “Every time we caught up, we would break a tire on the stones. We were lucky that we could borrow a spare tire from someone else at the lunch stop. We drove very carefully to get to the finish. We want to win the rally and you don’t do that in one day. Fortunately there was more sand in the last part. We kept the gas from there on to finish first.”
Van Loon did well in the rankings: his closest rival Paulo Ferreira was more than half an hour behind, so the difference is now 41 minutes.
In the third stage, Ton van Genugten still had to hand over the stage win in the final phase, but in the fourth, he achieved a resounding victory, which led the Team De Rooy driver to second place in the standings. During the day Aliaksei Vishneuski (MAZ), Roeland Voerman (Veka MAN) and Van Genugten played cat and mouse all the time. “The MAN had already overtaken the MAZ when I passed them both. A little later both of them came by again, when we had hit a stone in a riverbed with the suspension bearing. We had to knock it back in place with a hammer. But that wasn't too bad, it didn't take much time.”
It wasn't long before Van Genugten got Vishneuski in sight again and could get past the Belarus. On the last piece of camel grass he then raced past the MAN of Voerman again. Trucks with rigid axles are generally not happy with those massive humps, but with his truck with independent wheel suspension that was no problem for Van Genugten. “I was able to pass Voerman so terribly fast. It was great.” In the last 50 kilometres only Van Genugten took fifteen minutes on the classification leader. With a difference of 17 minutes on Voerman, Van Genugten drove the Iveco over the finish line. In the bivouac it turned out that Voerman had been given a time penalty of fifteen minutes, as a result of which the lead in the standings came into the hands of his teammate Peter Versluis. Van Genugten is now second at two and a half minutes. The second place in the stage was awarded to Jan van de Laar.
Moto #104 Joan Pedrero (Spain)
Today’s stage has been tough, especially in terms of navigation. I caught Skyler around 30 kms. from the start, and took the lead after a radar zone in a village; from there, the familiar mixed feeling of being at the front: you lead the race, but also have to deal with the stress of opening the stage: trying not to make mistakes and at the same time trying to be fast. We swapped positions several times, and I saw we two different tracks at some points, so you always wonder who’s right and who’s not. It seems that at the end of the day we were both right, as neither of us got any penalties. I lead again, and will open the day tomorrow, so the game continues. Let’s see how it goes, as it we will tackle the first dunes and that always adds some spice to the race.
Moto #106 Skyler Howes (USA)
Very difficult stage today, with navigation that I found particularly difficult, as there were many different tracks to choose from. Joan caught me quickly after the start, and we started alternating positions at the front, as you have to go slower when you open the race, if you want to avoid making mistakes, this always opens overtaking opportunities to the second. In addition to the navigation challenges, I found the terrain very hard, full of rocks. I have similar terrain back home in Utah, but never for such long distances. All in all, I keep learning every day, and it’s fun to race Joan, as he is not only fast and experienced, but also a very nice guy. I’m also enjoying the landscapes we are passing by, never raced along a herd of camels! I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s stage, as it will be my first contact with the African dunes.
Moto #114 Per Enochsson (Sweden)
It wasn’t as hard as they told us at yesterday’s briefing; don’t take me wrong, it was hard, there were lots of stones but after yesterdays briefing I was expecting more or less to spend the night in the desert, so I’m positively surprised that wasn’t the case and I got here at a reasonable time. In terms of navigation, the first part of the stage was complicated, but after a number of cars and trucks passed me in the second part, I just had to focus on staying on the tracks they were leaving. I’m having a lot of fun in this race, looking forward to the next stages!
Source Morocco Desert Challenge official press release