Maikel Smits wins stage 7
With a smile from ear to ear, Maikel Smits crossed the finish line of the 403 kilometre long seventh stage of the Morocco Desert Challenge. The smile was not only because of the certainty that he had won the stage and was the first to cross the line after another exciting duel with leader Mario Patrao, but also because Smits had thoroughly enjoyed the ride. An hour later Mike van den Goorbergh - cousin of Jurgen and in his first rally - came to the line near Matarka with the third fastest time.
Maikel Smits: "It went so well today and I enjoyed so much. Very technical, a lot of navigation on compass, but also a lot of gravel and lots of drifting: that is the best thing there is. At the start, I was not so happy. The bike indicated a malfunction on the coolant sensor, so I went back to the Van Eerd service team, and started two minutes later than I should have done. Therefore, I was already four minutes behind. At the tank stop (at 188 km) it was still three minutes and in the second part of the stage I began hunting Patrao down. I saw the dust cloud in the distance, and then a point and that was getting bigger. After 100 kilometres of hunting, I was in his wheel. He tried to get away for 30 kilometres, but I did not let him go. I stuck to his wheel and almost at the end, he made a mistake. He took an S-turn completely, but I had already seen that you could just go straight, so I cut it, so that I was just a bit earlier at the finish. If I know that I am winning the stage, I also want to finish first and I succeeded. I know that I can’t win the rally anymore – unless something really strange happens – but I do want to take the honour of at least winning a few stages."
Mike van den Goorbergh: "The third place in a stage makes me happy, but I am even happier with ninth in the standings. Especially because it is my first rally and I participate as a malle moto rider (solo rider, without assistance), without any assistance of a service team to do the maintenance of the bike. Such a result is a gift. It actually went very well all week. The bike is still in a good shape. My cousin Jurgen built it up for me and trimmed it and he also gave many tips. Jurgen has done the Dakar ten times, the last years always as a malle moto rider, so he knows what it takes. We also trained quite a bit together, but I'm already happy if I can keep up with him a bit. I do not have a large background in motorbike racing like he has. Fifteen years ago I did some road racing for a few years, but otherwise it was limited to a bit of enduro driving.
The Morocco Desert Challenge is not the easiest rally to start with, but that's exactly why I learned a lot in a week's time of riding, navigating and maintaining the bike. I have neatly checked my list every day. Luckily, I hardly had any problems. I made one big crash yesterday in the dunes. I banged my head so hard on a hump of camel grass that I was ten minutes out.
I rode well today. The navigation was very difficult, but at a certain moment, the truck of Martin van den Brink came by on a vast plain and I stayed behind him, because he has such a good navigator on board that, I dared to trust it. I saw them take a certain direction so resolute that it had to be good.
I think I may have missed a waypoint in the beginning, so I might get a time penalty and then I lose that third place, but that is nothing more but a pity. So many bikers had to withdraw already - there are only four malle moto riders left in the race - and I am still here. Getting to the finish is the most important thing. First let's do those last 211 kilometres tomorrow."
Exciting battle for minutes in truck race Morocco Desert Challenge
The battle is on between Ales Loprais and Martin van den Brink. At the end of the 403 kilometer long seventh stage, the difference was only 28 seconds. Van den Brink however was given a compensation of 5 minutes, so that he was declared the stage winner with a difference of 4.32. In the ranking the Dutchman still is 26 minutes behind the Czech and he only has 211 kilometers left to make up for that. In the last stage tomorrow the Belgian Paul Verheyden will defend his podium position with a margin of 20 minutes on the Czech Tomas Vratny.
Martin van den Brink: "We lost a few minutes at the end of the stage, where the navigation was one big tangle. In such situations it is a disadvantage if you have to open the stage: we took a wrong turn, Loprais saw that and immediately took the right path. That way he came over the finish line right behind us. The stage was great, with nice, fast gravel paths and beautiful views. We drove fast, but in a way that spared the material. Wouter and Mitchel changed a tyre during the lunch break."
Ales Loprais: "We were in control. Today it was about the brakes and the tires and so it was important to use your brains. We had a small leak in one tire, but we could solve that by pumping air into it. The plan was to change tires during the lunch break and I had asked race direction if that was allowed, but in the end it turned out to be unnecessary and I sent the service team away again. The second part of the stage was a lot more interesting than the first. There was more to lose than to win. We go into the last stage tomorrow with the same mindset as the previous seven stages. As far as I am concerned, that stage is no different than otherwise. Only at the finish will the prizes be given."
Paul Verheyden: "We have driven a bit more conservatively today. Hence the eleventh place in the stage. I prefer the sand and the dunes, not of those fast paths. Yesterday, we therefore tried to open the gap to Vratny. Today it was a matter of racing as usual, but within the limits of the risks. I expected Vratny to take a minute or ten, but it turns out to be only three. That makes driving more pleasant tomorrow.
I have been driving rallies for many years, but I have never reached a podium place. Usually I’m in service for others to provide fast assistance and I am satisfied when I reach the top 10. It is certainly exciting now that it matters, but I do not get nervous about it."
Willems on his way to the podium, Klinkhamer fifth for the time being
With a gap of two hours before and two hours behind, Maik Willems is almost certain of his third place in the 4x4 and in the overall ranking of the Morocco Desert Challenge. In the seventh stage, from Boudnib to Matarka, Willems came in fifth. With the buggies, Mark Klinkhamer took third place in the stage. In the buggy ranking he is fifth, despite 63 penalty hours.
Maik Willems: "It was quite a nice day. For me a bit boring even, but Rob (van Pelt) had his hands full navigating. Especially at the end, where Jean-Claude Kaket put together a nice puzzle. Because of the many camels, cows and goats on the paths on the way I had to pay close attention. Also for the holes, even though they were not big. We hit a hole with the right front at a speed of just 30 km/h. That has caused some damage. We do not worry too much about that, because the margins in the rankings, both in front and behind us, are this big we are firmly in third place."
Mark Klinkhamer: "This buggy was once a Predator, but after a year and a half of tinkering it is a VLK. It is quite a nice car, but because we had a problem with a leaky tank in the beginning of the week, the result is a little disappointing. Let me put it this way: the result could have been better. There is so much happening with the buggies, that we can finally be fifth even with so much penalty. With only rear-wheel drive it is sometimes difficult, especially on those fast paths. We can still make a profit in the dunes, because we do not have that much experience yet. Many other buggies do not even participate anymore. Even today the competition had a lot of bad luck and thus we could finish third. The difference to the podium positions in the rankings is simply too big. We should forget about that, unless some of our rivals break down, but I don’t even want to think about that. We're just going to go for it tomorrow and then we'll see where we end up. "