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Photo credit: Marcin Kin

The 2017 OiLibya Rally of Morocco has just one more day to run – the short final stage around the city of Erfoud will decide the overall winner of the rally.

It hasn’t been so simple up until now however. After heavier than average rainfall leading up to the event, the rivers that the route crosses have proved to be impassable in a number of places.

On stage two, it was the leaders on the route, Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla, and KTM’s Matthias Walkner and Sam Sunderland who were first to tackle one of the swollen oueds.

The riders were completely blind whilst attempting to cross, the water ran very muddy and it was near impossible to judge the depth in places.

Quintanilla and Sunderland came out the worst, both drowning their bikes and filling the engines with water. Quintanilla was able to carry on to the next checkpoint, where the stage was eventually neutralised.

Sunderland was not so lucky. With his fuel contaminated with murky water the 2017 Dakar winner was forced to retire.

“I’m really disappointed today," told Sunderland after Stage two. “Up to around 45km everything was great, the bike felt good and I was making good time. We got to the river and I followed the road book to the crossing, but although I took it as carefully as I could the bike just disappeared from beneath me. I ended up drowning the engine and getting water in the fuel.”

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Photo credit: Marcin Kin

Later riders arriving at the first river were able to judge the water more accurately due to the help of the leaders. However, a river after CP1 was found to be completely impossible to cross for the bikes and the stage was stopped.

Days three and four made up the marathon stages of the event. Riders travelled to the desert camp of Erg Lihoudi where they would camp for the night and receive not assistance from their teams.

Again, due to the higher-than-normal level of the rivers, these stages were changed slightly to ensure the entire course was passable.

With one day left of the rally, it is championship leader Pablo Quintanilla that leads the overall standings. The Chilean rider just needs a good result on the final day to take the win of the rally and the 2017 FIM Cross-Country Rallies Championship.

It hasn’t been without controversy however, initially penalised with an additional 20 minutes due to missing a checkpoint after that first river and losing time whilst fixing his bike, Quintanilla was running way down the order.

A protest by the team led the FIM to delete the penalty and knock off his time lost due to mistakes in the road book for that day.

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Photo credit: Marcin Kin

That decision by the organisers didn’t go down too well with Honda. Their riders were looking at podium positions and a possible championship for Kevin Benavides until the altered results.

“The stage was really fun but it’s hard to go racing when you know that KTM get their own way,” told Honda’s Ricky Brabec after stage four. “They have a really good spokesperson for FIM and towards the rally organisation. To keep racing after they get their own way every single day is tough for us. We keep fighting and we keep doing well and we can win. But when Honda wins KTM have something to say.

"It’s not good. It hasn’t been a good rally for us. They do something wrong they capitalize on it and get their time back. They miss a waypoint - they get their time back. They get stuck in the water - they get their time back. We go one kph over the speed limit - they give us a one-minute penalty. It’s a little BS for us.”

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Photo credit: Marcin Kin

The fifth and final stage of the 2017 OiLibya Rally of Morocco will be held in the dunes surrounding Erfoud. The two-part special totals 188.15km with the complete stage measuring 232.06km. An undulating final 20km will require caution and good navigational skills before the riders reach the finish.

 

Standings after four of five stages

standings

 

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Gez Morrison
Staff Writer