Africa ECO Race reaches Smara in southern Morocco after demanding fourth stage

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Italian rider Alessandro Botturi maintained a slender nine-second lead over Norwegian Pal-Anders Ullesvalseter in the motorcycle category after a brand new fourth 385.38km selective section of the 12th Africa Eco Race (Monaco-Dakar) between Assa and Sidi Laroussi in southern Morocco on Friday.

From a starting position of five, Great Britain’s Lyndon Poskitt claimed a first stage win on two wheels with his KTM in a time of 5hr 02min 45sec and moved up to third position at the expense of Felix Jensen.

The Norwegian ceded 48 minutes to the stage winner after a fall and found himself down in sixth overall at the night halt. Poskitt was able to follow the leading duo to the stage finish to ensure his stage win with Botturi hampered by navigation equipment maladies. Jensen could well be sidelined after sustaining a shoulder injury in the accident.

Polish youngster Konrad Dabrowski closed in on the top six with the second quickest time on a stage where his mentor Jacek Czachor was fifth and moved up to a similar position in the overall rankings. Paulo Lucci (Husqvarna) came in third and holds fourth overall. A navigational error cost Ullesvalseter any chance of claiming the stage win.

Davide Cominardi topped the day’s times in the over-450cc class on his Husqvarna, the Italian beating Sweden’s Anders Berglund by over 15 minutes. Fellow Italian Gabriele Minelli leads the category from Kiwi Edward Lines and Berglund. French woman Julie Vanneken suffered an ankle sprain.

It was a day for the trucks to strike gold again in the section for cars and trucks and the Belgian Iveco crew of Igor Bowens, Ulrich Boerboom and Frits Driesmans set the quickest time to stay in contention for T4 honours.

They now trail the Skania crew of Miklos Kovacs, Lazlo Acs and Peter Czegledi by 13min 09sec, the Hungarian crew sustaining two punctures on their way to third place. The Dutch duo of Johan Elfrink and Dirk Schuttel rounded off the day’s podium.

Driving their Tarek Buggy at the front of the T1 section, Yves and Jean Fromont lost 15min 54sec to the flying Belgian truck crew on the day’s special after collecting a puncture and suffering a technical issue trying to ue the spare wheel, but the French duo retained a lead of 1min 42sec over the Hungarian T4 Skania in the outright rankings.

French rivals, Patrick and Lucas Martin, were fourth on the day’s stage and now trail the Buggy by 12min 44sec. The third car in the overall classification is the ninth-placed Nissan of Stefano Rossi and Alberto Marcon.

Alexandre Dubanne lost time in the SSV Xtreme Race category with three flat tyres and only two spare wheels available and his near two-hour delay enabled Benoit Fretin to snatch the category lead from fellow Can-Am driver Loic Frebourg.

Dubanne slipped to 11th overall and third in the SSV section and paraplegic Geoffroy Noel de Burlin continued to race solo in fourth in a Polaris. The Can-Am of the French duo of Patrice Etienne and Jean-Pierre Saint Martin were second on the day and the Senegalese crew of Kamil Rahal and Thierry Sanchez were third, also in a Can-Am.

The Russian pairing of Alexey Titov and Dmitry Pavlov maintained their advantage in the T2 category for series production cross-country vehicles. Alex Cole and Emma Osman extended their lead over fellow Brits, Andrew Wicklow and Simon Armstrong, to 22min 41sec in the battle for Open class honours with a pair of powerful Bowlers.

Tomorrow (Saturday January 11th), is another gruelling day for the Africa Eco Race caravan with 686.10km on the agenda between Smara and Dakhla.

A short transfer takes competitors to the start of a 473.17km selective section that finishes at Wad Assag and a liaison of 211.76km guides the battle weary teams into Dakhla, which will host the event’s traditional rest day in the deep south of Morocco on the Atlantic coast.