Spanish privateer Isidre Esteve Pujol won today’s special test on his KTM, while Italian Fabrizio Meoni on another KTM – pulled back four minutes and eight seconds on leader Richard Sainct of France (also KTM-mounted).
This was the last Moroccan stage in the rally, and it included the longest special test thus far. Riders started in Goulimine, then traversed 303 miles (260 of which was special test) to finish in Smara. After the first 62 miles, the rocky route turned progressively faster, and it took a heavy toll on the motorcycle class, with a number of front-runners losing large amounts of time with mechanical problems. First to run into trouble, at mile 81, was the man who started in second place overall this morning, Finnish KTM rider Kari Tiainen, who had to wait for the organizers’ sweep truck. Next up was South African Alfie Cox (fifth this morning), who seriously damaged his front wheel on a rock shortly after refueling at the second checkpoint. He waited a while for his support rider Jean Brucy to arrive but eventually made repairs himself before wobbling slowly to the finish one hour and 22 minutes behind the leader. At mile 155 it was this morning’s 10th-placed man (and second BMW rider) Cyril Depres’ turn to run into difficulties. His rear tire destroyed after being “eaten” by the shaft-drive protection, he finished on his rim one hour and 44 minutes behind today’s quickest man. Finally, just seven and a half miles from the end, Sala (ninth this morning) stopped with a broken swingarm, after leading the special from the beginning. Combine all that with the fact that this morning’s course opener Joan Roma got lost, took the lead group with him, and then regrouped with Meoni and the others, and you’ve got Pujol winning his second special test ever, ahead of Meoni and Swedish rider Pg Lundmark.
Overall, despite finishing fifth, Sainct gained nearly two minutes on Roma who is now third behind the man who perhaps profited most from a “busy” day, Meoni (at 5’08). American Jimmy Lewis also benefited, however, finishing the test in eighth place (just over 16 minutes off the pace of the day’s winner) and climbing four positions to eighth overall, (nearly 50 minutes behind Sainct). Countryman Johnny Campbell also did well, finishing in ninth overall on his Honda.
Lewis’ jump in the standings is good news for the factory BMW rider, as huge stretches of desert await the racers after Smara. If he can keep his tire inserts from melting, Lewis may be able to capitalize on the superior top speed of his twin-cylinder BMW.