For motorsports enthusiasts that follow the Rallye du Maroc, this year was full of surprises: Pablo Quintanilla, former Husqvarna factory rider, had recently swapped teams and joined Monster Energy Honda. A few months later, the Chilean won the 2021 edition of Rallye du Maroc (the Morocco Rally). On the final day of the rally, Pablo took the fight to his opponents and won the stage as well as the overall rally in Morocco for the first time in his career, bringing an excellent result to his new team. Quintanilla is a rally vet – he’s won several Atacama Rally editions, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, and has placed 2nd and 4th in several Dakar Rally editions, but winning Rallye du Maroc is a first for him. Is it thanks to his talent, skill, and experience, or was joining the Honda factory team a bonus, too?
It’s no secret that Morocco has a long history of rally raids. Formerly called Atlas Rally, Rallye du Maroc has held 21 editions and witnessed some of the best motorsport competitors in the world. Rallye du Maroc is also an event in the FIM World Championship and the FIA World Cup. The company behind the Morocco rally has passed through the hands of several owners and is currently owned by David Castera, the present director of the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia.
The Morocco rally is one of the many sports events that wasn’t spared from the disruption of the sporting calendar that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the 2020 edition of the rally couldn’t take place because of global health issues.
Consequently, the 2021 edition of the Rallye du Maroc that took place between the 7th and 13th of October was specially planned to avoid the cities. Instead, competitors went through a wide range of terrain. This year, the rally route passed through the dunes of Chegaga and the Draa Valley in the Zagora province, also known as the gate to Sahara.
The organizers had also planned the final stage of the 2021 Rallye du Maroc to be a special 166-kilometer with very little navigation. Perhaps that served as a motivation to competitors in this edition of the rally: the final stage was most intriguing, as most of the riders still had the chance to win. Although the beginning of the final stage saw Mathias Walkner leading, Pablo Quintanilla showed up for his team and won the rally riding his Honda CRF450.
“I am very happy with the victory,” Pablo said after the rally. “It was a very difficult week and I want to thank the whole team for the great job they did. It was fantastic for us. Personally, I felt very comfortable, I was riding at a great pace, with good navigation and that’s very good for my confidence. I am also very motivated for the next objective, which is the Dakar.”
The outcome of the 2021 edition of the Morocco rally wasn’t a ‘mission accomplished for the Monster Energy Honda team, however, because their aim at the outset of the Rallye du Maroc was “to clock up as high a mileage as possible in the desert for its four riders ahead of Monster Energy Honda Team’s forthcoming participation in the Dakar Rally.”
Without a doubt, the Morocco rally has a strong collaboration with the Dakar rally, as the Rallye du Maroc has become—over the years—a kind of a pre-Dakar test. The synergy between the two rallies has notably become even stronger since David Castera (Director of the company behind the Rallye du Maroc) became the race director of the Dakar in March 2019. Most of the competitors that took part in the 2021 Rally du Maroc will also be at the 2022 Dakar rally, billed to take place in Saudi Arabia between the 1st and 14 of January 2022, including Enduro Cup Afriquia winner Amine Echiguer (KTM OCP).
Images: Rallye du Maroc