Monday 13th January, 2020 – Dakhla to Chami

After the rest day, it was back to business today for Stage 6. Andrew Houlihan finished 19th and ahead of rally leader Alessandro Botturi, and fellow Australian Matt Sutherland won the stage!

The rest day in the coastal city of Dakhla gave the competitors a well-deserved break, and the teams a chance to do some more in-depth maintenance on the vehicles before the rally heads into the tough dunes of Mauritania.

For the sixth year in a row now the organisers have set up the rest day bivouac in Dakhla, situated on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. With its pleasant temperatures, golden beach and reputation as a windsurfing mecca, it’s a far cry from the rocky and sandy terrain of the desert.

But the riders were shocked back into reality with a very early – 5.30am – start for the 6th stage of the 2020 Africa ECO Race.

Stage 6 involved a border crossing into Mauritania and all the customs procedures that go with it. Rally organisers had negotiated a simplified process for the teams, which seemed to work well.

Today’s stage was 560km in total with a 176km special once the riders had crossed into Mauritania. The Mauritanian tracks were mostly sand and quite fast.

Italian rider Alessandro Botturi (Yamaha WR450F) lead the field out and Andrew Houlihan started 38 minutes later on the Coca-Cola Energy KTM 450. Andrew started down the field after losing so much time on Stage 5 due to the challenging navigation that caused 48 out of 70 riders to miss waypoint 3.

Andrew says starting so far down the field meant he had a lot of dust to deal with and he almost had a big crash in some rocks at high speed. At that point, he decided to back off a bit.

“I was a little conservative today, I just want to make that finish line in Dakar.“

Early start! Andrew Houlihan ready to leave the Dakhla bivouac at 5.30am

He still put in a very solid performance and finished the day in 19th place, which has moved him up 5 places overall to 31st.

Andrew’s Coca-Cola Energy/Nomadas Adventure KTM teammate, Pablo Guillen, had another steady day today coming in 22nd and now sits 26th in the overall standings.

Also starting way down the field today, and 1 minute behind Andrew, was fellow Australian Matt Sutherland. Andrew rode with Matt for about 5-6km and said he was riding exceptionally well.

Matt had been caught up in the disaster of Stage 5 and was on a mission today – a mission that eventually scored him the stage win!

He finished the stage 1m16s ahead of Giovanni Gritti (RSMoto Honda Racing Team ASD), with Paolo Lucci (Solarys Racing/Husqvarna) finishing third.

Previous winner Alessandro Botturi finished 20th today, 55 seconds behind Andrew but retains the overall lead in the rally.

The relatively early arrival today in Chami has given the teams time to prepare for the start of tomorrow’s massive special stage.

Stage 7 is all special stage from the Chami bivouac to Aidzidine, a distance of 478km. The first part is almost entirely off-track without any existing route, and the final part of the day involves some complicated dune crossings.