Stage 3 (387 km) - Liaison 25 km / SS 153 km / Liaison 209 km / Total 387 km
Day three saw Sam Sunderland and Matthias Walkner, two of the main contenders, leave the competition. The British KTM rider was opening the track when he crashed in a river bed, breaking his right femur and left collar bone. Following Sam Sunderland’s incident, teammate Matthias Walkner also decided to withdraw from the race. Said Walkner, “Yesterday [stage 2] I was sick and today [stage 3] I took the start that I was not feeling 100%. The situation got worst after the finish of the special stage. I was not focused and I prefer not to take additional risks, so I head to the paddock instead of the bivouac. It’s a pity, I really enjoyed the rally.”
The first part of the Marathon stage, a 200 km liaison, which brought the riders to a remote bivouac in the middle of the desert and where no assistance team was allowed. After a hard-fought battle, Stage 2 victory went to Meo (KTM), with van Beveren in second, Svitko third, Farres fourth and Botturi in fifth. At this point, Meo led the overall standing.
Nathan Rafferty was the fastest rider of the Expert class, followed by Bruno Martins and Christophe Braun. In the quad, another very good performance for the duo Marcos Echaniz and Fernandez Covadonga. In the SSV category, Medero-Ventaja were the fastest crew in front of Henrichy-Bersey and third-placed Ibarz-Torne (Enjoy Quads).
Video stage 3
Stage 4 - Liaison 15 km / SS4 216 km / Liaison 35 km / Total 266 km
With 3 to 0 win stages for KTM, it was Alessandro Botturi who changed the fate of the Yamaha team on the 266 km long Stage 4. The Italian dominated on the sandy fast tracks and off-piste of the Dayat Maider, a desert area that separates the regions of Merzouga and Zagora. The Yamaha rider rode superbly to finish ahead of Gerard Farres in second and Laia Sanz in third, with Armand Monleon (KTM) in fourth and Ondrej Klimciv in fifth.
Meo had to withdraw from the rally due to a mechanical problem, which resulted in Stefan Svitko going to the top of the leaderboard for the overall classification, with Botturi (Yamaha) now in second and just 2 minutes behind, followed by Spanish Gerard Farres (KTM). It was also not a good day for Carlos Checa, who crashed hard and had to be taken by helicopter to Errachidia for observation. Fortunately he was dismissed after a couple of hours.
David Hernandez was the fastest in the Expert category in front of Valter Parisi and Maurizio Littame’. Among the quads Diego Ortega Gil shone. In the SSV category second win stage for Medero-Ventaja in front of Henrichy-Bersey and Ibarz-Torne.
Commented Alessandro Botturi (Yamaha), “It was a perfect stage. I really enjoyed the sandy parts but also the fats tracks on the plateau. The feeling with the bike was really good and I’m really satisfied. Tomorrow we will need to push to recover on Svitko. The Le Mans start will be fun and it will look like a motocross race. I’m ready for it.”
Video of Stage 4
Stage 5 - Liaison 43 km / SS5 75 km / Liaison 44 km / Total 162 km
With the battle for supremacy in KTM’s favour, the Grand Prix of the Dunes on the fifth and final day was crucial to decide the winner of the Merzouga Rally 2015.
A spectacular ‘motocross style’ start brought the riders straight into the big dunes of the Erg Chebi for two laps of a 37,5 km demanding ring. French Yamaha rider Adrien van Beveren claimed his first stage win for the Pro category.
The overall winner of the 2015 Merzouga Rally went to Alessandro Botturi (Yamaha), with Gerard Farres in second, Stefan Svitko third, Olivier Pain fourth and Laia Sanz fifth.
American Nathan Rafferty, who was leading the overall of the Expert category, confirmed his position by winning the Expert, while Diego Ortega Gil won the Quad Pro and Vincent Brochet the Quad Expert. The winner of the SSV went to the French crew Henrichy-Bersey (AT4R), with Abel-Manez (Los Amigos) in second and the Spanish of Enjoy Quads Ibarz-Torne in third.
Said an elated Botturi, “We raced the Merzouga Rally to test the new WR 450F in preparation of the Dakar Rally. The race was tough with lots of navigation and sand parts, but there were also some extreme rocky tracks. I tried to be as consistent as I could and finally it paid off! The bike was reliable and strong, even if there still needs some final details to be completely ready for our big appointment with the Dakar 2016. I really want to thank Yamaha and the whole team who did great efforts to grab this victory, the very first African rally one for me!"
There was great satisfaction from the Yamaha top management too. "Coming back from Morocco with this result is very encouraging,” said Alexandre Kowalski, Yamaha Yamalube Team Director. “We proved that the riders are consistent and the bike is in a good shape and is developing in the right direction. We still need to work on some little things, but we got some good information from the track and now we have some more ideas how to set up the bike for the next Dakar rally."
Added Nathan Rafferty: “This is my second Merzouga Rally and it’s a great satisfaction to win this race. Racing in this part of Africa is simply fantastic. A rally raid is also an extraordinary occasion to visit another country and to combine the passion, bikes and racing.”
In the SSV category the French crew Henrichy-Bersey (AT4R) repeated their success of the 2014 edition. They were very good at reading the road book and despite the demanding 1,289 km route they were first to the finish line after completing two laps of the Grand Prix of the Dunes in the Erg Chebi, with dunes reaching 150 meters high. “We really enjoyed the Merzouga Rally,” said Frederic Henrichy. “It’s a technical race on a varied terrain. We took the start as the leader of the overall classification and we were able to manage the advantage on Los Amigos and Enjoy Quads. Our target was to repeat the success of last year and I can say “mission accomplished!”
For the French crew of Eric Abel and Christian Manez (Los Amigos), who came in second, and the Spanish Enjoy Quads team of Roberto Ibarz and José Maria Torne, familiar faces at MR, the challenge is postponed to next year, where they will return stronger than ever to conquer the first step of the podium.
Video of Stage 5
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