Morocco has always been the promised land of rally raids. The story began in 1982 with the arrival of Paris-Agadir, the first rally raid to run in Morocco. The following year, the rally took the name of ‘Atlas Rally’ and became the flagship rally to the rally raids calendar. It was then reborn in 2000 as ‘Rallye du Maroc’. The rally immediately became the major Moroccan rally and welcomed the elite of rally raid. Since then, the Rally of Morocco has enjoyed strong synergies with the Dakar and is a great pre-Dakar test. We had a long chat with the Monster Energy Honda Team sporting manager on the participation of the Honda Factory Racing team at this pre-Dakar rally.
What makes the Rally du Maroc the perfect Dakar preparation?
Well, it’s not only because of the timing (only a few months before the Dakar Rally), but because the Rally du Maroc is simply ‘The rally’! This coming week the organisation shows us the new addition to the rules. For me it has an additional emotional aspect. When I joined the HRC team in 2013, the first event we did was this rally. So, for me, the rally will always have a special place in my heart. We use the Morocco rally for testing the modifications we’ve done during the year and to prepare the riders and the bikes for the Dakar Rally. This rally is simply the perfect testing ground as it is a competition run in the same circumstances as the Dakar. We experience similar heat, a competitive field, lots of sand and dunes, as well as competing against the best riders in the world. If we would test now in Saudi Arabia, the weather could be totally different.
How does the Monster Energy Honda Team prepare for such a demanding rally?
It’s a matter of concentration, because this kind of racing is very demanding for the machines and the riders. The riders need to find the right balance between fighting for the podium but meanwhile testing the new bikes, so they are flawless for the big challenge in Dakar. We won the Dakar Rally the last two years, and we are aiming again for P1 in Morocco and in the Dakar!
Almost all the riders from last year teamed up again. I guess you don’t want to change a winning team, right?
Indeed, we have almost the same team. Pablo Quintanilla joined Monster Energy Honda Team, so together with Joan Barreda, Ricky Brabec and José Ignacio Cornejo we have a very strong and experienced squad at the start line. It took us several years to be where we are now. During these years, we made a lot of changes on the bike and the structure and finally we achieved our main goal: winning the Dakar. Our team and riders are working hard to win for the third time in a row.
What kind of modifications has HRC made to the bikes? Is there a limit in terms of technological improvements you can make?
This is confidential. You need to follow the next Dakar Rally to know more [laughs].
How is Motul contributing to the success of the Monster Energy Honda Team?
First, we would like to thank our partner Motul for the excellent collaboration on this big adventure. Without them it would not have been possible to be in the position we are today. In my opinion, it makes the best products available on the market for our bikes and other vehicles. Also, the Motul Racing Lab helps a lot in Dakar, not only for us, but for all the competitors and riders. The oil analysis helps to detect potential or current engine issues. Our mechanics appreciate all Motul products, not only the racing oils, but also all other lubricants for the chain, suspension and the cleaning products. The fine sand from the dunes is quite a challenge for man and machine! That’s when the Motul products step in to get the mechanical parts greased and ready for the next rally day.
Why does every rider want to participate in the Rally du Maroc?
Due to the pandemic, it’s almost two years since we meet again. A lot of rallies were cancelled in 2021. Plus, the rally environment is a challenging world and lots of the riders are also friends away from the track. If you check the entry list, the top 20 of last year’s Dakar finishers is here. So that’s a very, very competitive field. But as our team proved to be very strong this year in other rallies such as the Sonora Rally, the Baja Aragon and Andalucía Rally, I am confident that the 2021 Morocco Rally will be very good for warm-up the 2022 Dakar.