Morocco gave the starting signal today as the Merzouga Rally – the second race of the season – got underway for Monster Energy Honda Team. With the mandatory administrative and technical scrutineering behind them, riders this afternoon moved on to the curtain-raising event, a brief five-kilometre prologue that kicked off the action.

Kevin Benavides, behind the bars of the Honda CRF450 RALLY, proved to be the fastest rider of the eighty entrants in the motorcycle category. Paulo Gonçalves posted third place while team-mates Ricky Brabec and José Ignacio Cornejo finished the day 10th and 11th respectively. Joan Barreda, back in his first competition since a wrist operation, rode a prudent race to finish in sixteenth position.

The top fifteen finishers get to choose their starting positions for tomorrow’s first full stage. Over the course of the day competitors will have to tackle some 206.71 kilometres of special stage.KEVIN-BENAVIDES-MERZOUGA-RALLY-2018

Kevin Benavides – PROLOG: 1st I felt good and confident on the bike and I was quick in this short five-kilometer prologue. I think it is important, as it’s always good to start any race well. Let’s see how tomorrow’s first stage plays out”Paulo-Goncalves-MERZOUGA-RALLY-2018

Paulo Goncalves – PROLOG: 3rd “We have started quite well. I took the prologue a quite a fast pace, which allows me to get a good starting position for tomorrow. The race is expected to be difficult, and I will be hoping to reach the end without any problems – that is my aim in this race”




Following Pablo Quintanilla’s victorious outing in the United Arab Emirates less than a month ago, the Chilean rally star has been joined by his team-mate Andrew Short in Morocco, with the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing duo getting their participation at the 2018 Merzouga Rally underway on Sunday. Securing eighth and 14th respectively in the short Prologue, the two FR 450 Rally powered riders are looking ahead to five long and challenging rally stages in the dunes of Morocco. 

Winner of the 2018 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in late March, Quintanilla will be looking for an equally positive result this week in Morocco. Enjoying a good overall feeling aboard his Husqvarna during the short Prologue on Sunday, the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider is just 30 seconds behind the provisional overall leader as the Merzouga Rally is entering its first long rally stage on Monday. 1.pablo.quintanilla_rockstar-energy-husqvarna-factory-racing_merzouga_rally2018_004

Pablo Quintanilla – Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing

Back to full fitness following his injury at the Dakar Rally, Andrew Short is excited to be back racing his FR 450 Rally machine. Making full use of the experience he collected during his first participation at the Dakar last January, the American has his eyes set on a good overall performance this week in Morocco. 

Featuring a Prologue and five gruelling rally stages in the dunes of Morocco, the 2018 Merzouga Rally is a week-long challenge of more than 1,500km. Taking place on Monday, stage one of the event features a timed special of 206km. It will be the first of five demanding rally stages in the sandy dunes of the Merzouga Desert. 

Pablo Quintanilla“We had a good first day to get into race mode. We started with a free practice session in the morning and then went on to contest a short Prologue of just five kilometres. For such a short Prologue it is always tricky to get a great result. I’m happy with where we’re at right now. The race will be long and we can expect some surprises. We’ve already gotten the roadbook for the first stage and it was easy to see we’re down for a tricky stage tomorrow. The goal for me is to get into a good race pace, avoid mistakes and continue pushing to make up for the time lost today in the Prologue.” 2.andrew.short_rockstar-energy-husqvarna-factory-racing_merzouga_rally2018_010

Andrew Short – Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing

Andrew Short“I’m just happy to be back racing. I think the Merzouga Rally is a great race and I’m planning to make full use of my time here in Morocco to continue improving. After’s today’s short Prologue, we’re heading to the dunes tomorrow, where navigation is expected to be really tricky for all. It’s been great meeting the team again and I’m excited for the challenge that lies ahead. I will do my best for a good overall result during the next few days.” 

The Red Bull KTM Factory Racing


The Red Bull KTM Factory Racing pairing of Toby Price and Laia Sanz are back in action onboard their KTM 450 RALLY bikes, contesting the 2018 Merzouga Rally held in Morocco. Merzouga itself is a small town bordering the mighty Sahara Desert and provides the perfect rally location with the surrounding terrain featuring a mixture of deep sand dunes and hard-packed rocky tracks. 

Although short at only five kilometres, Sunday’s Prologue gave riders a taste of what is to come from the remainder of the rally and more importantly determined the riders’ start positions for Monday’s stage one. Held in the dunes to the east of Merzouga the short sprint took the front-runners less than six-minutes to complete but still provided a worthy test for both competitors and their machinery. Navigation specifically will prove tricky for all of the competitors, especially on the longer stages of the event. 

Following his strong performance at the opening round of the 2018 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship in Abu Dhabi, Toby Price has come into the Merzouga Rally recharged and looking for a top result. Second fastest on the short Prologue by just three seconds, the 2016 Dakar Champion will enjoy a good start position for tomorrow’s stage one and aim to chase down the leaders.Toby Price - Red Bull KTM Factory Racing - 2018 Merzouga RallyToby Price: “That was all good today. I started towards the back of the pack, kept to a good pace and everything went really well. My mechanic has done a fantastic job on the bike and I feel good. I’m looking forward to seeing what the Merzouga Rally has on offer for us this week.” 

The Merzouga Rally marks Laia Sanz’ return to rally competition after the 2018 Dakar. The Spanish multiple world champion unfortunately suffered a crash on Friday while testing and was in doubt for the event. Following some rest and physio Laia was able to make the start of Sunday’s Prologue and put in an excellent performance to finish sixth. Laia Sanz - Red Bull KTM Factory Racing - 2018 Merzouga RallyLaia Sanz: “I am really happy to be able to start the race because yesterday it looked like I might not be able to compete. At the beginning of the free practice I was a little worried about my arm, but it warmed up and started to feel better. The Prologue went really well, I didn’t take any risks and tried to keep a nice consistent pace. I’m very happy with sixth place and it gives me a good start position for tomorrow’s Stage One.”

Monday’s Stage One of the 2018 Merzouga Rally sees riders tackle a tricky to navigate 206.71km special stage in the tracks and dunes to the west of Merzouga.


Prologue results

Pos. Rider Num Nation Team Constructor Time/Gap
1 BENAVIDES Kevin   ARG Monster Energy Honda Team Honda 5’25
2 PRICE Toby   AUS Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team KTM +0’03
3 GONCALVES Paulo   POR Monster Energy Honda Team Honda +0’17
4 PEDRERO Joan   SPA Sherco TVS Rally Factory Sherco +0’20
5 SANTOLINO Lorenzo   SPA Sherco TVS Rally Factory Sherco +0’21
6 SANZ Laia   SPA KTM Factory Racing Team KTM +0’24
7 CAIMI Franco   ARG Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team Yamaha +0’26
8 QUINTANILLA Pablo   CHI Husqvarna Factory Rally Team Husqvarna +0’30
9 SVITKO Stefan   SLO Slovnaft Team KTM +0’30
10 BRABEC Ricky   USA Monster Energy Honda Team Honda +0’31
11 CORNEJO José Ignacio   CHI Monster Energy Honda Team Honda +0’33
12 CERUTTI Jacopo   ITA Moto Racing Group – MRG Husqvarna +0’37
13 MENA Oriol   SPA Hero Motorsports Team Rally Hero +0’39
14 SHORT Andrew   USA Husqvarna Factory Rally Team Husqvarna +0’42
15 DUPLESSIS Martín   ARG Sherco TVS Rally Factory Sherco +0’50
16 BARREDA Joan   SPA Monster Energy Honda Team Honda +0’53