Friday 10th January, 2020 – Assa to Smara

Andrew Houlihan continues to climb back up the standings in the 2020 Africa ECO Race. Another 20th place in Stage 4 today has moved him to 30th overall.

Coca-Cola Energy KTM/Nomadas Adventure teammate Pablo Guillen also continued his strong run today and has moved up to 34th overall.

Without the delays caused by the fuel pump issue on stage 2 both Andrew and Pablo would probably be sitting in the top 15.

Today’s 380km special stage threw plenty of challenges to the riders – many sandy and rocky tracks, lots of dust, and some bad fesh fesh.

Fesh fesh is the name Arabians give to a very fine powdery substance – the by-product of many years of erosion. It is basically sand grains that have been worn down into a dust like particle.

Once thrown up it can linger in the air for a long time, creating many problems for the riders. And it sticks to everything!!

But it is what creates some of the most spectacular images to come out of African rallies.

“I had a good day. I backed off the pace a bit today to save some energy for tomorrow’s 686km day.”

There was only one very small dune crossing today, but some very high speed sections across the chotts (salt lake) that gave riders the opportunity to open the throttle! Andrew says he reached 170km/h!

True to what the organisers predicted, navigation was challenging today.

Andrew’s ERTF, part of the GPS navigation system the competitors carry, reported that he missed a checkpoint where he actually had his time card stamped. Missing a checkpoint or waypoint would normally result in a penalty, but rally organisers have agreed there should be no penalty in this case.

Andrew says he’s glad he made the decision to step up to the KTM 450 Factory Rallye bike. “It soaks up the big hits so well.”

Stage 5 is a longer day – 686km in total with a 473km special and 211km liaison – ending in the city of Dakhla where competitors will take a well-earned rest day.

Dakhla is on the coastline of Western Sahara, a disputed territory currently administered by Morocco, and overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. It is a popular kite surfing destination. Riders can expect to be able to travel at high speed on good tracks through somewhat monotonous desert landscapes on stage 5, but will have to deal with some tricky navigation and confusing parallel tracks.

Dakhla