The OiLibya Rally Morocco hosted the final round of the 2017 FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship and like some of the rain and stormy conditions that blasted areas of the five stage chase the race was a whirlwind of emotion for the Monster Energy Honda team.
Paulo Gonçalves came to the fifth and last meeting of the series hunting the title but a hand injury forced the Portuguese veteran out of the running after the second stage. Michael Metge was also nudged to the sidelines with illness. It was left to Kevin Benavides and Ricky Brabec to shine in what was an important finale to the summer/autumn schedule and ahead of preparation for the 2018 Dakar in South America.
Argentine Benavides admitted his goal was to find sufficient speed and points to break into the top four of the championship standings after Morocco but his ability to cope with some of the flooded landscapes and diverse navigation kept him in good stead. Kevin missed the 2017 Dakar with a broken arm but his form with the CRF450 Rally has been encouraging and enough to indicate he could be a front-runner by the time of the flagship annual event in January.
His efforts in the OilLibya were enough to ensure second position on the podium (behind Matthias Walkner) and, rewardingly, also the FIM classification. “I did the best I could, thinking that I might reach fourth position in the World Championship and in the end I finished runner-up, after a bad start to the season, as I was still carrying the hand injury,” he said afterwards. “That's why I'm happy because I’ve had a great end to the season. Today I gave the maximum, but I made a small roadbook error when I was going at a fast speed, but I’m happy nevertheless. Of the last four races, I was always on the podium: a win, two seconds and a third, and the most important thing is the consistency that we’ve been having lately. We will continue working because there are three months left before the Dakar, and although the bike has not given any type of problem, we will continue with some testing the next few days.”
Brabec also uncorked champagne from the third step of the box. The American won the very last special and also topped the time sheets on the third stage for a maiden FIM success. “That’s pretty big for me,” he admitted. “It’s gonna make the plane ride home a little bit better, knowing that I did pretty well. So I’m happy. For this we’ve had a very good experience going towards the Dakar. We have a very strong team despite some problems. The whole team wasn’t here, but I think that Honda can take some Dakar podiums. The bike ran perfectly and we didn’t have to change anything except the tyres.”
Now the big one beckons. The Spain-based HRC set-up will be attempting to topple the might of KTM come the first weeks of 2018. The Austrians have ruled the Dakar for the last sixteen years but Honda, with the talents of Joan Barreda, Gonçalves, Benavides, Brabec, Metge and acumen of the whole crew, another tight contest is anticipated.