Honda takes top honours at Mini-Dakar
As it has been since its start in 2010, the 2018 edition of the Merzouga rally, too, turned out to be the ideal training ground for competitors with the gruelling Dakar in their dreams. Run by ASO, the same guys who organise the Dakar, the event takes place in the Erg Chebbi desert in Morocco and has all the ingredients of the Dakar, with long stints of riding per day, extreme temperatures and lots of desert sand!
It attracts amateur riders, looking to get their first taste of desert racing, as well as seasoned racers wanting to stay sharp for the next year's Dakar. The PRO category is for the latter, while the EXPERT category for amateurs follows a route course which is 75 per cent of the total. It also includes a marathon stage spread over two legs.
Edo Mossi, the creator of the Afriquia Merzouga Rally, holds courses in the evening after each stage, with the goal of helping everyone become a better rally raid racer. A total of 156 riders, drivers and co-drivers took part, out of which 76 were participating in the Merzouga Rally in the Moroccan desert for the first time.
The top teams were present - Honda, KTM, Sherco and Hero. Honda aced 4 out of the 5 stages. Joan Barreda, who retired with winning chances in the closing stages of the Dakar due a wrist injury, worked through the pain of a recent wrist surgery to take victory in the end. His teammate, Kevin Benavides, placed second while Pablo Quintanilla, of Husqvarna Racing, finished third.
JOAN BARREDA RODE THROUGH THE PAIN OF A RECENT WRIST SURGERY TO TAKE VICTORY AT THE END OF THE GRUELLING RALLY
Quantanilla also had to brave a knee injury from a collision with Barreda on stage 4, to come out with the fastest time on the final stage. Yamaha rider Franco Caimi finished fourth.
From team Sherco TVS, rider Joan Pedrero finished in seventh, while Duplessis Diego Martin, Vanni Cominotto and Lorenzo Santolino finished in positions 11, 21 and 31 respectively. From Hero MotoSports, star Indian-rider CS Santosh placed an impressive 19th, despite recent injuries sustained at Desert Storm, while Oriol Mena placed 15th. In the quad category, Axel Dutrie, Jeremy Forestier and Antonie Vitse made up the top steps of the podium.