After the New Year celebrations which were simple but cozy at the bivouac in Assa, the competitors of the AFRICA ECO RACE 2016 took to the tracks again on this Friday January 1st for a stage of 409km all the way to Remz El Quebir, in southern Morocco, and all of it without any liaisons. A detail that all competitors appreciated a lot and they were very happy to get to the bivouac minutes after finishing the stage. All the competitors have given positive feedback about the stage and especially the last sector which was a real pleasure to drive. On the other hand, this stage which was suppose to be fast and good, turned out to cause many top ranked drivers to suffer multiple punctures. This means that for the first time in all of the AFRICA ECO RACE history, a truck is leading the general classification. This truck is none the less the KAMAZ driven by Anton SHIBALOV, who has had not issues since Nador.
BIKES: ULLEVALSETER on the roll
Once again Pal Anders ULLEVALSETER did not find any competition to come and bother him today so he wins the third stage in a row. The Norwegian is clearly a step ahead of everyone else and his sponsor who is giving him a check for each victory can already start writing the checks for the MEONI Foundation. Having said all that, we must point out that a fall today has damaged his rear brake pedal of his KTM.
Behind the “Viking”, we find Norbert DUBOIS whose mechanic found the issue on his bike and he was able to ride at his normal speed all day. Starting 5th this morning, the Frenchman finished the stage with Anastasiya NIFONTOVA, the two of them did a high five after the finish line and he said : “I am bluffed by how the Miss has progressed. She is riding very hard, and I had a lot of difficulty to keep up with her, especially in the last 20km.” A justified comment as the Russian rider placed her HUSQVARNA in 4th position of the leg standing, beaten only by the KTM of the British rider Andrew NEWLAND.
The other competitors who shined in today’s stage are Dmitry AGOSHKOV who finishes in a constant 5th place, and also the Belgium Jean Louis BLANPAIN who finished 6th only 28 seconds in front of the Italian Andrea FESANI. In the main ranking, Pal Ander ULLEVALSETER has already clocked over one hour lead from Andrew NEWLAND, and Anastasiya NIFONTOVA is 3rd just 5’35” behind the Brit. With his excellent performance of the day, Norbert DUBOIS gains 4 positions and is now 5th overall just behind Dmitry AGOSHKOV.
CARS : A stage full of surprises This 4th stage was not estimated particularly hard for the cars. The first section is known by all the long time drivers of the AFRICA ECO RACE and the stage should not have caused so many problems, in order to remain reasonable as we know that the Moroccan stages are very often extremely vicious on the tires. Many top competitors learned this by misfortune, starting by our leader of the overall ranking Yuriy SAZONOV whose HUMMER punctured 4 tires. Same problem with a fault in the air system used to blow up the tires for Mathieu SERRADORI who was the stage leader for a long time. We must add to these issues some serious technical problems for Anton GRIGOROV and Ricardo LEAL DOS SANTOS, who 5 hours after the leader was still in the stage finding his way home to the Bivouac. It is well known the problems for some people gives other people opportunities and this Jean Antoine SABATIER understood it very well and started 2016 with flying colors with a stage win in his BUGGA ONE.
The current champion is 2’26’’ in front of the OPTIMUS driven by Pascal THOMASSE, who was also a victim of 2 punctures, and the third place goes to Kanat SHAGIROV, always very strong with his TOYOTA pick-up from Overdrive. An excellent result for Jérémie CHOISEAU, who finished the stage in 4th position 14’19’’ behind the leader.
The Buggies are king in the AFRICA ECO RACE because from 5th place till 8th there are only 2 wheel drives vehicles, we can find the two TAREKs of Yves FROMONT and Patrick MARTIN, then the two OPTIMUS’ of Jean Noël JULIEN and Jean Pierre STRUGO. You must go all the way down to 9th place to find a 4×4 with the OPEL of Balazs SZALAY.
Special remark for the Russian Alexander TERENTYEV whose FORD Raptor wins the T2 category with his 11th place over all.
On the overall car ranking it is a 4×4 who is occupying the top of the board, because the Kazakh Kanat SHAGIROV is in front of Pascal THOMASSE by a few minutes and Jean Antoine SABATIER made a stunning return into the top 3 but he does have a 30minute gap to the leader. The others behind have small time differences and the lead of the race looks like it will be very passionate. In the T2 production cars category TERENTYEV is in the lead followed by the TOYOTA of Mara ABYKAYEV and the Nissan of Joseph ROSSO.
TRUCKS : Anton SHIBALOV is leading the AFRICA ECO RACE Since the start of this 8th edition, Anton SHIBALOV is doing a very good job in been constant behind the wheel of his KAMAZ. His worse stage finish in both cars and truck category was his 4th place today, even though he did get a puncture during the stage. This means that the Russian is tonight in the lead of the AFRICA ECO RACE in the cars and truck category 17’03’’ in front of the car driven by Kanat SHAGIROV. A truck in the lead of the race, is a pretty rare situation for an off road rally and seen his reliability and speed it will be very hard for the cars to catch this KAMAZ.
We can also point out the good performance of Elisabeth JACINTO who finishes in a superb 7th position driving her MAN. The “Queen of the Rally” is about 30 minutes ahead of the KAMAZ Sergey KUPRIANOV. In the overall standing, KUPRIANOV is an hour behind SHIBALOV, and JACINTO is comfortably in 3rd position 2 hours from the leader and 1h 17’ from the 4th Miklos KOVACS. Tomas TOMECEK on the other hand was victim today of 2 punctures and broken shock absorber on his TATRA, he is therefore almost four hours and a half. But just like the Czech says, the AFRICA ECO RACE is a real race and anything can happen.