Helder Rodrigues started Honda's return to rally racing with a bang today, the Portuguese rider winning stage one of the Morocco Rally and beating the two factory KTM riders in the process.

Rodrigues rode to victory in the 168-mile stage, topping KTM's Marc Coma and Cyril Despres and his Team HRC Rally teammates also fared well. Brit Sam Sunderland finished in the top 10, despite a crash in the dust at the 85-mile mark; Brazilian Felipe Zanol, in his debut in an African race, finished 12th; and Argentinian Javier Pizzolito and American Johnny Campbell ended up 15th and 16th, respectively.

The first stage of the six-stage rally was a warm-up of sorts with riders getting tested by fast sections as well as dunes and rocks.

"I'm very happy with this result," Rodrigues said. "Winning the first stage in my first race with a new machine and a new team is a great satisfaction. This is just the first day, but it's nice to start on top. The CRF450 Rally is working well; we have a very good base and this race is also good for testing before the Dakar, which is our target. Today it was a good stage with a diversified terrain. I rode with Coma and Despres; we were very close and finally I won."

Campbell also enjoyed his first day on the new bike.

"The track today was very fast, let's say 90 percent very fast track and 10 percent off track in the dunes," he said. "There was a lot of rocks and dust, but in general it was okay. This is the first major race I have competed in since 2001 so it takes me a little time to get into the race rhythm again, in terms of speed and intensity, while physically I'm okay. I made some navigation mistakes and I lost 10 minutes before arriving at the service. Then I regrouped and finished 16th. The CRF450 Rally is working really well - it has a strong power and I look forward to the next stage."

By Cycle News Staff

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