2023 Rallye du Maroc: Ross Branch Hero-ic in Stage 1


If Ross Branch decided to get a little wild for his Dakar Rally Stage #8 win, he would have had a child the next time he was atop the RallyGP stage podium. Nine months after his last win, he added his second stage victory of the 2023 World Rally-Raid Championship by taking the first leg of the Rallye du Maroc.

After finishing third in the Prologue, Branch elected to start Saturday further back in twelfth to allow the leaders to test the course before him. This quickly paid off as he was already the fastest bike through the first checkpoint as the Hondas of Pablo Quintanilla and Prologue winner Tosha Schareina gave chase. By the end of the 314-km stage (710 total, the longest of the rally), Branch led Quintanilla by over a minute.

The Botswanan has developed into a fast starter in Morocco, having also claimed the Prologue and Stage #1 in the 2022 edition. His Hero MotoSports team-mate Sebastian Bühler was the first bike on course and mainly focused on navigation to finish ninth.

“It was a very long day on the saddle. We started around 3 AM this morning, and rode over 700 kilometres on the bike. The liaisons were quite long, but when I got to the stage, it felt amazing,” said Branch. “The stage was quite hard and rocky, but I enjoyed it. I was able to navigate well right from the beginning; I caught up with some other competitors around refuel, and we pretty much rode together till the finish.

“I’m very happy with my result, finally got a stage win this year. This is exactly what I and the team needed before the Dakar, and we’re happy with our progress, and where we are physically and mentally now. Tomorrow is going to be interesting opening Stage #2, but I’m up for the challenge.”

Despite running top three for most of the day, Schareina got lost in the final eighteen kilometres while trying to avoid cars that missed a waypoint and sank to tenth. He was not the only disappointed Honda rider as the battery on Ricky Brabec‘s bike failed midway, forcing to the sidelines next to his fellow American Monster Energy Honda team-mate Skyler Howes for the rest of the rally.

Nasser Al-Attiyah‘s path to his second straight championship only grew clearer as he won in T1. Despite starting thirty-eighth among all cars (twenty-first in class), he set a screamer of 3:15:32 to beat Yazeed Al-Rajhi by over two minutes.

Eryk Goczał stunned the T3 class again as he won on Saturday after claiming the Prologue, beating W2RC contenders Seth Quintero and points leader Mitch Guthrie. T4 champion Rokas Baciuška, another graduate to T3, was two minutes off the podium.

João Ferreira was the only W2RC driver on the T4 stage podium as he finished third behind Enrico Gaspari and Juan Manuel Maña. Although Gaspari did not win any stages at the Desafío Ruta 40, he still finished second overall in class.

Dakar Rally T5 winner Janus van Kasteren endured another frustrating day as he finished seventh and over half an hour behind stage victor Martin Macík Jr. Van Kasteren, whose Dakar win gave him a nine-point lead in the T5 championship over Macík entering Morocco, also suffered a smashed windshield during the Prologue.

Francisco Lopéz Contardo was forced to retire from the stage after his fuel pumps were burned up by an electrical problem. On the two-wheel side, Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge Rally2 winner Tobias Ebster crashed two kilometres into the stage and dislocated his shoulder, ending his race. The Open classes were especially hit hard by attrition as only four of the nine entrants reached the finish.

Prologue car winner Mattias Ekström received a one-hour time penalty, placing him twenty-eighth in T1 to add insult to an already difficult day. Without the time addition, he would have still finished a disappointing eighteenth. Team-mates Carlos Sainz and Stéphane Peterhansel salvaged the day for Audi by respectively placing fourth and seventh.

Stage #1 winners

Class Number Competitor Team Time
T1 200 Nasser Al-Attiyah Toyota Gazoo Racing 3:03:38
T2 250 Akira Miura* Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body 4:31:39
T3 314 Eryk Goczał EnergyLandia Rally Team 3:22:56
T4 406 Enrico Gaspari* Xtremeplus 3:48:06
T5 501 Martin Macík Jr. MM Technology 4:49:14
RallyGP 16 Ross Branch Hero MotoSports 3:13:17
Rally2 32 Bradley Cox BAS World KTM Racing Team 3:33:37
Rally3 164 Cheikh Yves Jacquemain Africa Rallye Team 4:58:31
Quad 183 Manuel Andújar 7240 Team 4:02:13
Open Auto 601 Jérôme Cambier* MD Rallye Sport 5:03:20
Open SSV 653 Tomas Mickus* BRO Racing 4:43:55
* – Not competing in World Rally-Raid Championship

Leaders after Stage #1

Class Number Competitor Team Time
T1 200 Nasser Al-Attiyah Toyota Gazoo Racing 3:15:32
T2 250 Akira Miura* Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body 4:45:49
T3 314 Eryk Goczał EnergyLandia Rally Team 3:33:45
T4 406 Enrico Gaspari* Xtremeplus 4:00:27
T5 501 Martin Macík Jr. MM Technology 4:49:14
RallyGP 16 Ross Branch Hero MotoSports 4:08:42
Rally2 32 Bradley Cox BAS World KTM Racing Team 4:31:57
Rally3 164 Cheikh Yves Jacquemain Africa Rallye Team 6:04:41
Quad 183 Manuel Andújar 7240 Team 5:08:38
Open Auto 601 Jérôme Cambier* MD Rallye Sport 5′:15:43
Open SSV 653 Tomas Mickus* BRO Racing 4:57:27



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