Factory KTM rider Richard Sainct used the first African special test to remind his challengers that it wasn't just luck that got him the win in the last two Dakar Rallies. The Frenchman finished the 86-mile test in one hour, 16 minutes, one second - a minute and 14 seconds faster than runner-up Carlo DeGavardo, a KTM-mounted Chilean. Third on the day was yet another KTM rider in Italian Fabrizio Meoni.
The first BMW in was that of Spaniard Juan Roma in sixth place, two minutes and 33 seconds. Unlike Sainct, the Spaniard didn't find the special to his liking, describing it as "hard and technical" - an impression confirmed by evidence of damage from a low-speed spill on the right side of his bike. He did, however, declare himself unconcerned by lead established by his main rival, saying it was "nothing" at this stage of the rally. (Sainct leads the rally overall with a time of one hour, 51 minutes and five seconds - three minutes and 19 seconds faster than second-place Meoni and three minuts and 27 seconds faster than third place Roma.)
Much more of a worry for the BMW team is the fact that two of their riders, American Jimmy Lewis and Frenchman Cyril Depres, managed to melt their foam tire inserts during the stage. This is a problem that plagued Lewis on the only BMW twin entered last year; it was something that the German team thought it had overcome after extensive tests in the Death Valley prior to the race. Commented team manager Berthold Hauser, "I'm surprised. We only have one type of mousse, so it can't be a question of having made the wrong choice. We'll have to discuss it with the Michelin guy here on the rally." The only problem encountered by the works KTMs was a wire to the cut out switch on Sala's bike coming adrift.
Though the test was relatively short compared to those ahead, it was the longest yet in this year's rally, and counting the transfer sections, riders had to endure 373 miles in the saddle today. The course left Nador in Morocco this morning, and finished at Er-Rachidia after negotiating winding, story trails through cork forests. Towards the end of the special test, the speeds picked up considerably over the Biguil Plateau in the Moyen Atlas.
Lewis' problems held him to 10th-fastest on the test, a little over six minutes off of Sainct's winning pace. He currently sits 10th overall, nine minutes and 15 seconds in arrears of the Frenchman. Fellow American Johnny Campbell, riding a Honda in his debut Dakar Rally, is 16th overall, just under 15 minutes off the leader's pace.