Hero MotoSports Team Rally rider Ross Branch wins epic stage one of the 2023 Rallye du Maroc, the final round of the World Rally-Raid Championship, a stage which claimed Ricky Brabec and Sam Sunderland for the retirement list.

Stage one of the 2023 Rallye Du Maroc was the longest day of this year’s race with a long connection between Agadir and Zagora of over 700 kilometres. It took riders to the south of Morocco along a mixture gravel and dirt tracks, plus inevitable sand and dunes. The liaison was 397km long, with a Special Stage of 314km.

Starting 12th this morning, Ross Branch went through every time check in first place to win the special 03’41 ahead of Monster Energy Honda Chilean Pablo Quintanilla, with Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Matthias Walkner third at 04’18”.

Second on the stage for a long time was yesterday’s Prologue winner Tosha Schareina but the Spaniard lost time looking for a waypoint at the end of the special to finally finish 10th.

“It was a very long day on the saddle.” Explains stage winner Ross Branch. “We started around three AM this morning, and rode over 700 kms on the bike. The liaisons were quite long, but when I got to the stage, it felt amazing! The stage was quite hard and rocky, but I enjoyed it. I was able to navigate well right from the beginning; I caught up with some other competitors around refuel, and we pretty much rode together till the finish.

“I’m very happy with my result - finally got a stage win this year! This is exactly what I and the team needed before the Dakar, and we’re happy with our progress, and where we are physically and mentally now. Tomorrow is going to be interesting opening Stage 2, but I’m up for the challenge!”


The win Branch and Hero find themselves at the top of the standings ahead of Pablo Quintanilla, the Chilean also clocking a confident first day while others around him faltered. “This was definitely a good day for me.” Said Pablo. “It was a very hard journey with many rocks and dangerous parts. I tried to ride smoothly and was able to reach a good pace all day long. I also got some dust in the morning but overall I felt good. I am happy with my performance and feel really good with my Honda CRF 450 Rally.”

It wasn’t such a good day for Ricky Brabec who became the second Monster Energy Honda rider to exit the rally this week after Skyler Howes crashed out of the prologue yesterday. Brabec was reported by the organisers to have had battery problems but the HRC team say it was fuel issues which caused the American to retire after he was unable to start his bike.

Also running into difficulty on the stage was Sam Sunderland who, like Toby Price and Joaquim Rodrigues, crashed in the training shakedown ahead of the rally and has has pulled out reportedly complaining of blurred vision in his left eye. 

Start position matters with no time bonuses

Third overall and proving a start position around 10 riders in was a good one, Matthias Walkner was another rider saying how tough stage one proved to be. “Honestly, that was a really tough day today. I felt that today. We were up early, then straight into a long road section. The special itself was like we’re used to here in Morocco with a mixture of terrain, but the first part was especially tough with lots of stone-covered tracks.


“I had a good day on the bike, I think I was riding well and was able to stick to a good pace over all the different types of ground. I’m in a good position now to attack the rest of the race too. This has only been the first day, so I’m sure there will be more tough stages to come. I’ll take it day-by-day and see where I am at the finish.”

2023 Rallye du Maroc stage 1 results:



Photo Credit: Rally Zone + Honda Racing Corporation