2023 was a year of ups and downs for Andrew Houlihan.

What looked like an unbeatable lead in the Veterans class of the 2023 FIM Bajas World Cup turned into a second place after a low speed incident during training in Australia tore Andrew’s quadriceps tendon.

But Andrew plans a comeback, and on today’s episode of the Speedcafe / KTM Summer Grill he talks about his 2023 successes and disappointments, his recovery from the injury that cost him a win in the 2023 FIM Bajas World Cup and his plans for 2024.

With the start of the 2024 Dakar Rally just a few days away he gives us his thoughts on who the leading contenders are and drops a bombshell about his plans for the 2025 Dakar.

 

Road to Dakar_FIM-Baja-World-Cup-2023_Hungary_Andrew Houlihan

It’s over 15,000km from Andrew Houlihan’s home city of Albury to the township of Várpalota in western Hungary, the venue for the 5th round of the 2023 FIM Bajas World Cup.

To get there, Andrew and wife Katie endure a 3 hour train trip to Melbourne, 22 hours on aircraft and then a 90 km car trip from Budapest to Várpalota. Then there’s the bike preparation, admin, scrutineering, rider briefings and route planning.

And then Andrew can go racing!

It’s a demanding regime to be competing in the FIM World Cup of Bajas, but one that Andrew is relishing. And he’s proving that even in his 50’s he has what it takes to be competing at a world class level.

Going into the 5th round, Andrew has a solid lead in the Veterans Class and sits 3rd outright in the 450s.

But he’s hoping for a better run than he had at Baja Aragon just a couple of weeks ago. An incident on day 1 injured his shoulder and he drowned his bike in a water crossing on day 2.

“I need to push hard in Hungary to build on my lead in the Veterans Class”, he said. “Pedro Bianchi from Portugal is pushing very hard to close the gap and he is faster than me in the European conditions so I have to really be focused in Hungary and get some good points.”

The Hungarian Baja runs through the largest active military shooting range in Middle-Eastern Europe lying between the mountainous region of Bakony and Lake Balaton. Military helicopters and tanks are not an uncommon sight!

It is typically a shorter but intense and high-level race. The short Prologue occurs on Friday morning to determine the starting order, and then the competitors will complete two 110km special stages, followed by two 123km stages the next day.

The level of competition will be high. Slovakian Stefan Svitko, a 10 times Dakar competitor will be the rider to beat. And Houlihan will be trying to close the gap to current championship leader Mohammed Al Balooshi.

The journey to Hungary – as told by Andrew Houlihan

After the 6.30am train and 15 hour flight to Doha (Qatar) it was nice to have a shower and refresh ourselves at Doha Airport before boarding the next flight to Budapest.

There’s some logistics dramas with my race bike on my mind. After the last round the bike was taken back to Valencia and the plan was to get it on a truck to Hungary in time for this event. Unfortunately that didn’t go to plan, and the transporter now has to travel directly from Portugal to Hungary, so I won’t have my regular Aurora Baja bike.

Fortunately, I have my Nomadas Adv Coca-Cola Racing Team supporting me in Hungary and they will build one of the team bikes into a Baja bike for me with some custom suspension and an Aurora rally tower. It won’t be like my regular Baja race bike but it will be as close as possible, and I know they will go above and beyond to have that bike set up and ready.

My mechanic will be Nacho. He was my mechanic at the Dakar Rally and also with me 8 weeks ago at round 3 in Badajoz, and he is one of the few people I trust with my bike setup.

But it’s on my mind as we arrive in Budapest after travelling 32 hours and 6 minutes from Albury.

Honestly, I couldn’t handle all the travel logistics without the help of the best travel agent in the business – Brendon Mahoney from Savenio Travel in Albury. Brendon takes care of every trip for Katie and I, and makes sure I have my flights all connecting, hire cars available and accomodation sorted.

We arrived at Budapest airport at 7am in the morning. It was nice and easy getting the rental car and then we set off for the 90 minute drive to Székesfehérvár which is approximately 20 minutes from Várpalota. Székesfehérvár is the ninth largest city in Hungary with a population of around 100,000.

Katie and I were both amazed at how beautiful it is with very old buildings and churches much like in Budapest.

After a quick stop at a coffee shop and an early check in at our hotel, we drove to Várpalota to catch up with my Canadian mate Johnathon Finn for lunch. The food in Hungary is amazing, we have not stopped eating since we arrived.

Johny is currently leading the World Cup Juniors class and is one point behind me in 4th place in the 450cc World Cup. He’s based in Valencia and made the switch from road racing to rally last year. His father Shawn is based in Saudi Arabia and flys in to help at each rally. We always setup up in the bivouac together and help each other out as much as possible. It’s guaranteed to be a great time with these guys.

Várpalota is an old town. It was a mining town during the Socialist era, and the buildings remind me of the damaged war torn ones I saw in Mongolia a few years ago. You can sense the military presence, it’s got that funny vibe.

Our Baja Headquarters and office is at Thuri Castle in Várpalota. The Castle was built in the 13th century and is like something out of a Robin Hood movie. It has an “interesting” dungeon and torture chamber – there’s some wild machines in there!!

We relocate from Székesfehérvár to an Airbnb in Várpalota not far from Thuri Castle for the rally. 

We’re also joined in Várpalota by Esther Merino Garcia from Spain. We met Esther at the Hellas Rally back in 2018 but haven’t seen her since Dakar in 2022. Esther is currently sitting in 4th place in the Women’s World Cup class.

We’re here! One more night and it’s time to get down to the business of racing.

Road to Dakar_FIM-Baja-World-Cup-2023_Hungary_Andrew Houlihan

12/03/2023 10:05am, Melbourne

For the first time in 5 years we only have a short 14 hour flight to Doha. Normally I arrive in Doha or Dubai and then have another 8-9 hour flight to my next destination.

The past few weeks have been mayhem with my work being the main focus. I did manage to sneak 4 days of riding in the high country with one of my sponsors and good friend Shaun Walsh from Walsh Earthmoving.

He’s a good rider and a great person who has been supporting me for the past few years, and my time with Shaun always helps me get mentally prepared before a big race.

Not to mention riding with him also keeps me on my game!

The weather for the second round of the FIM World Baja Rally Champs in Qatar looks like it’ll be hot. The temperatures in Doha are forecast to be in the mid 30’s, and hopefully we don’t have the freezing cold mornings like we did during round 1 in Saudi Arabia.

I am so lucky to have Katie with me at this race. She will definitely make things much easier and  will work great with the guys from Saudi Dirt Bike Centre.

We’ve only ever transited through Qatar on the way to other destinations, so it will be great to spend some time there to check everything out. 

But when things don’t go to plan, which is what usually happens with travel at the moment, it’s “entertaining” to have Katie there with me to sort the problems out!!!

The event in Qatar will be a much bigger event than Round 1 and has the highest ever number of entries for this event. There are quite a few big name riders racing too, and with many of the Dakar riders now recovered and attending the competition will be taken up to the next level.

It’ll be great to catch up with a lot of the riders I have raced with at Dakar and other events.

The bike is serviced and ready to go. I’ll be on the Husqvarna FR450 Dakar bike I rode in the Saudi Arabian round last month. The new KTM 450 Baja bike the guys at Aurora Rally Equipment in Athens are building wasn’t quite ready in time, but I’ll have it for Round 3 in Spain.

31/1/2023 8:18pm, Saudi Arabia

I had a very quiet and relaxing day for my first day in Ha’il yesterday. I was up at 6.30am and headed down to breakfast.

There’s a standard breakfast at the hotels throughout the UAE and Africa. It’s not too bad but there’s not a lot of variety and the coffee is nothing like in Australia. There is a Starbucks cafe in the foyer of the hotel so I am making the most of the their coffee.

At breakfast, I could see a few of the big car and buggy teams had started to arrive and the first team setting up in the bivouac was South Racing.

South Racing is maybe the biggest off road SXS (side-by-side vehicle) operation in the world. Their set up at Dakar is amazing with over 100 staff there just to support their racers.

My day yesterday was filled with eating and watching Netflix on my tablet in the room. The hotel is large and very modern with high class facilities, but as I have found previously in Saudi Arabia the TV reception and channels are non-existent.

I must have needed some sleep as I was laying on the bed at 5.30pm and next thing I knew my phone was ringing – it was 6am the next morning (today)!

Outside the wind was howling and it was still pitch black. There was a massive sand storm in the distance and it was very hard to keep upright with the wind. Then came the rain! It could be an interesting raceif this weather keeps up!

The full list of bike competitors has been released and there are some fast guys here. There’s a couple of past World Baja Champions and some local Saudi Guys that ride this terrain day in and day out. And with competitors from 22 different countries it’s going to be a tough event.

The officials have said that the 3 days of racing are comprised of 85% desert sand, 5% dunes and 10% rocks and gravel so it’s very similar to Dakar terrain.

Mishal (Aglhuneim) and the Saudi Dirt Bike team arrived at 5.30pm today and we were able to set up our spot in the Bivouac.

Mishal re-fractured his ankle at Dakar a few weeks ago and arrived here with a 50/50 chance of riding in this event. It’s great to talk with someone who has the same outlook and mindset as me when it comes to injuries. He only took the cast off 3 days ago and got rid of his crutches, but after discussing his injury with me I think he now has a 90% chance of starting.

Mishal has raced the Baja before and has been quite successful. He won the Saudi round last year.

He has been great in explaining to me that the Baja requires much more strategy than Dakar as you only have 3 days and can’t afford to make any mistakes. Apparently the local Saudi riders are extremely fast but can’t navigate well, so they will sit right behind and follow.

Tomorrow we have administration and scrutineering, and it’s time to set the Husqvarna FR450 up to suit me.

29/1/2023 5:35pm, Saudi Arabia

The adventure begins! There’s going to be a lot of travel this year as I compete in the 2023 FIM Bajas World Cup. Round 1 is in Ha’il Saudi Arabia, and it’s just 3 weeks after this year’s Dakar Rally.

Getting to any international destination is often fraught with risk, and at least a few challenges. At least it’s easier now than in times of COVID.

But there’s only one flight per day out of Albury, it’s early morning and it didn’t marry up with my 9pm flight to Doha. So once again Katie was there to get me to Melbourne Airport and it was a nice drive down with my biggest supporter.

Melbourne airport is still very quiet and my flight to Doha was not 100% full, so I thought I could get an upgrade to business class at a reasonable price. During COVID this was easy and quite affordable, but what a different scenario now! $5,400 extra just for the Melbourne Doha 14hr leg. Luckily we had already secured an exit row seat which turned out to be be pretty good value.

On landing in Doha I received a nice surprise message from Mishal Aglhuneim at the Saudi Dirt Bike Centre with some photos of my bike with the graphics and TwinPegs fitted all ready to race. 

After a short stopover in Doha airport there was the quick 1.5 hour flight to Riyhad, and then the challenge of finding a bus transfer to Terminal 5 for the next leg of the journey. When Alistair Nicoll and I were there for Dakar 2021 we had some big issues finding Terminal 5 but luckily it was easy enough today.

Getting food in the terminal proved to be a bit harder. I tried to order a Dominos pizza in Arabic, it took me a while but I got there!

But then while I was eating it I realised I was right next to the Saudi Airlines lounge which I had access to – and it has FREE food! 🤬 I felt a bit out of place in there, I think I was the only one not wearing a big white robe.

Thankfully I had an upgrade to business class on Saudi Airlines for the flight to Ha’il so I could have a bit of space and relax, but once I arrived in Ha’il life became interesting.

I’ve been to Ha’il a couple of times before but it has been during Dakar and I was on the bike, so flying into Ha’il gave me a whole new perspective. It has a population of approximately 700,000 and is an agricultural hub. Landing at the airport was like landing in remote Africa – a very small outdated airport with no security at all.

I grabbed my bag and the fun began.

As soon as I walked out of the terminal I was harassed by every scamming taxi driver, there’s no Uber in Ha’il. No taxis would take a credit card payment, but they could all take me to an ATM to get cash. Luckily I negotiated a fare and had enough Saudi money on me to cover it.

We learnt at the past two Dakars I’ve raced in that Saudi drivers are the craziest, most out of control drivers of any country I’ve been to in the world.

I kind of new how to get to the hotel on the other side of Ha’il, so when the driver diverted half way there I started to get a bit concerned. Suddenly he couldn’t understand English and he finally stopped outside a small shopping village kind of thing and started gesturing me to go inside.

As soon as I voiced to him that I was pissed off after a long flight and there wouldn’t be a great outcome if he didn’t hurry up and get me to my hotel, he surprisingly understood everything.

So I’m checked in to the hotel, food is ordered, bags unpacked and it’s time to rest up. I’m here!

4th – 6th January, 2020 – Monaco to Savona, Italy

After many months of planning, preparation and intense training, Andrew arrived in Monaco for the start of the 2020 Africa ECO Race.

Getting back together with the rest of the Nomadas Adventure team is something Andrew always looks forward to.

There’s a special bond with team manager Hernan Samaniego, teammate and riding buddy Pablo (Juan Pablo Guillen) and the rest of the crew that will all work together to get the guys through the 2020 Africa ECO Race.

But there was very little time to settle in and enjoy the lifestyle Monaco has to offer.

For Andrew, it was the first chance he’s had to get familiar with the new Coca-Cola Energy KTM 450 Factory Rallye bike he will ride in the event.

Andrew has made the shift to the KTM brand, and is now on a similar bike to his teammate Pablo.

The team has also secured a sponsorship arrangement with Coca-Cola Energy, and both bikes are now carrying spectacular Coca-Cola Energy livery.

And of course, before any rally there’s always the long and involved process of administrative and technical checks. And the good news is that everything passed through the process without any problems and Andrew and Pablo were cleared to start.

Under lights on the evening of 4th January Andrew rode the Coca-Cola Energy KTM 450 Factory Rallye onto the start podium for the 2020 Africa ECO race.

The next morning was a 3am start!

After the celebrations of the night before all teams transported the race and support vehicles to Savona in Italy – a relatively short 130km trip – to be loaded onto a ship for the next part of the adventure.

Eight hundred people and tonnes of vehicles and equipment are now spending 36 hours sailing from Savona to the Moroccan port of Tangier. And on their arrival on the 7th January (local time), competition will begin.

Andrew and Pablo will start Stage 1 at 11.30am local time (8.35pm AEST / 9.35pm AEDT)

Nomadas Adventure are also assisting 37 year old Indian rider Ashish Raorane in the 2020 Africa ECO Race. Ashish, like Andrew, is planning on racing in the 2021 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia. He will start the stage at 11.10am local time.

Stage 1 takes competitors from Tangier to the bivouac in Tarda, a distance of 754km. There’s a short 24km special stage through the Maamora cork oak forest, and that will determine the starting order for Stage 2. The route is mainly sandy and windy with some holes and ruts, but a fairly easy start to the rally.

Saturday 12th October, 2019 – Casablanca, Morocco

I slept for the 45 minute flight to Casablanca and my arrival was what I’d expected. I was held up going through passport control because they had not stamped my passport in Fes!

The security at Casablanca airport had increased since I arrived in Africa 7 weeks ago. Military and police carrying machine guns everywhere and constant security checks.

After 10 minutes of being questioned in both Arabic and French and not being able to answer, they gave up and let me through along with an English man who had the same problem. 

Despite me showing Security my scars and pictures of my titanium parts, they were not satisfied. I once again asked for someone who could speak English, but they just made me sit by myself for 30 minutes while they stared and kept asking me questions ….. in Arabic and French!

I’d had enough, so I showed them the X-rays of my knees one more time and became a little aggressive.

“No problem, you may go through” was the response in perfect English! 

I was finally through and sat down for the worst coffee I’ve ever tasted.

I was staying at a hotel about 20 minutes from the airport and the check-in time was 3pm, but I had contacted the hotel via email, my Expedia booking app and by phone to get an early check-in.

They didn’t respond to – not even to my Expedia messages which had been read – and when they answered the phone it was the same old “I don’t understand English” response. 

It was only 8.30am, but I was tired, agitated and needed a rest.

I climbed into a 1970 model Mercedes Benz taxi that was the most unroadworthy vehicle I’ve ever seen and went to the hotel. I was greeted by a reception full of staff that could speak perfect English!!!!!!

I only had to wait an hour or so and they got me into a room. The hotel was great, had English TV channels and a nice restaurant. A quick breakfast and then up to the room to get some sleep.

My search for decent food in Casablanca was a bit like it was in Fes. The service is never good and the food …… well …..

Photo credit: hans pohl on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

I went for a walk about 2pm and found a small local “Steak House” that looked quite nice.

The food described on the menu at the steakhouse was nothing like what they served up. I’m not sure what type of animal I ate, but it definitely wasn’t beef or lamb!

For dinner, I had found a Pizza Hut about 2km away on Google maps and decided to walk there and grab a pizza. It was an uncomfortable walk and was similar to the area I was dropped in near Old Medina – no Westerners and lots of very dodgy looking people.

My attempt to order even by pointing at items on the menu was useless. Another customer there spoke a bit of English and helped me, but when I asked for takeaway he told me it is best to eat in the restaurant.

I should have listened to the local guy and ate there.

The moment I walked outside the shop with a pizza box and a large bottle of Pepsi it was on – there was yelling and screaming, and mothers sending their children over to get some pizza from me.

By the time I made it back to the hotel I was exhausted mentally and physically, I could only imagine what would have happened to me had I hit one of the women or kids with the Pepsi bottle. Straight to my room to enjoy my cold pizza and hot Pepsi.

My alarm went off at 6am the next morning and I was on my way to Casablanca airport – I was finally going home. Seven weeks in Africa is enough.

It has definitely been one of my most exciting and demanding trips I’ve ever done. There were a lot of crazy experiences and I’m happy to have survived the Sahara Desert dunes.

I miss Katie and the kids so much. I need to get home to my own bed and some good food, go back to work and get ready to do this all again on a much harder scale in January when we tackle the Africa ECO Race.

Friday 11th October, 2019 – Fes, Morocco

Last 2 days in Morocco – wow!!

I had an extra day at the Marriot in Fes to rest before I flew to Casablanca. My body is really run down and I have a few good injuries from my time in Africa to recover from.

I spent the first morning with Tess and Hernan before they started their 4 day drive back to Valencia and then on to Switzerland.

Pablo flew back to Madrid last night. We have lived together in hotel rooms and desert camps for the past 7 weeks. 

There were many times when one or both of us would be down and feeling lost, wondering what the f#*k are we putting ourselves through this for. It was great to talk at the end of the days racing and know that someone else feels the same.

Pablo has a wife and 3 young kids and like myself was feeling guilty everyday about being away from them, but we kept reminding ourselves about the opportunity we have been presented with and the sacrifices we have to make.

There’s a nice shopping centre in Fes that has a Burger King, Pizza Hut and McDonalds, and I decided I would catch a cab there to get something normal to eat.

But getting a cab in Morocco always has its problems, and I now had no one with me that could speak French or Spanish.

The cab driver seemed to understand where I wanted to go and I showed him the address on Google maps.

But as happens in Morocco, he picked up a couple of other passengers on the way and I was crammed in the back seat listening to them all yell and scream in Arabic.

And as we passed the shopping centre my requests to stop were ignored!!

A couple of times I attempted to get out of the cab as it was slowing down but it was too dangerous and I had no success. I now felt like I was in a dream as we were in some very run down crowded streets and there was not another Westerner in sight.

If you’ve watched any of the American war movies set in Afghanistan where they drive through war-torn streets in armoured vehicles – then this is what it was like for me right now.

I was now completely lost. The driver and the others in the car, and in fact the whole situation, was starting to worry me.   

I normally remain reasonably calm in these situations but this time I started to yell at the driver to stop the car.  

He was ignoring me until I started to get very agitated and opened the rear door whilst we were driving at speed.

In the middle of a crowded street he slammed on the brakes and screamed at me in Arabic.

The whole situation was about to get gravely out of hand and I realised I needed to get out of it as quickly and safely as possible. I got out of taxi and he sped off with his other passengers.

As soon as I got my phone out to check where I was, the people came. Small kids grabbing my shorts, holding their hands out wanting money, fully Burqa clad women asking for money and hundreds of unstable looking men pointing and staring at me.

I was now very nervous and right out of my comfort zone. As quick as I could I walked about 1km to the end of the street and found a main road. I now had time to work out where I was.

I was in a remote part of Old Medina, a place I didn’t want to be in and there wasn’t a taxi in sight. There were plenty of donkeys, beggars, ancient buildings that looked like they had been bombed and hundreds of burka clad women blocking the street, but no taxis. 

I walked about another 2km very quickly before I found a major road and after 20 mins finally got another taxi.

“Marriot Hotel, very fast, urgent”, I yelled at the driver and he was off breaking as many road rules as he could. 

I missed out on my Burger King and went straight to the bar, had a beer and tried to digest what had just happened. This was the first time in Africa that I’ve felt really uncomfortable and in a bit of danger.

 

I ate at the hotel restaurant that night and went to bed early, I had to be up at 3am to fly to Casablanca in the morning.

Friday 4th October, 2019 – Fes, Morocco

I was up at 6.30 am this morning to bring the bike back from the bivouac for the final technical inspection. Pablo’s bike was also knocked back yesterday so we were both pretty nervous riding back to the Marriot.

A near miss with a crazy pedestrian early in the morning was not what I needed. Even the early morning traffic here in Fes is crazy!

Back at the Marriot Pablo’s bike made it through, but mine was a no go.

I had no idea what they were telling me in French, but I understood the bike was not going through. Tess and Hernan arrived and we realised we had missed another tracking system.

Out with the credit card and then Hernan was madly drilling holes in the front fender to mount it.

Another 30 minutes later the system verified with the GPS and I was allowed through to the next check.

The officials asked me a lot of questions in French to which I would just nod my head. We were finally done, but I had missed out on the chance to pre-ride the prologue stage that we start this afternoon.

This morning was again very stressful as we were quickly running out of time, but we made it through the necessary steps to compete.

The other rallies I’ve done – Hellas, Hispania, Pan Africa – are completely different. To be honest, there’s no comparison at all!

My start time this afternoon is 2.10 pm and although the bike passed technical inspection there is still a problem with the throttle sticking. Riding back to the bivouac this morning it stuck on as we arrived.

I will have to do today’s prologue as it is and let Hernan attend to it tonight. (UPDATE: We managed to source a throttle cable, replaced it and it should fix the problem.)

Africa constantly throws up challenges. I bought a local SIM card for my iPhone this morning and there is no way anyone can get it to work, even Maroc Telecom who sold it to me couldn’t.

Thursday 3rd October, 2019 – Fes, Morocco

This morning started nice and relaxing – we had coffee and sat around for an hour or so.

And then the mayhem started!

Getting through the administration for the Rallye du Maroc took an hour and a half, going from desk to desk. They do not leave any stone unturned, and it was like being grilled in a courtroom by 12 separate judges – in French! Luckily Tess was with us and helped us through.

The room was packed with the best in the world but the moment Toby Price arrived all the attention turned to him. He is one of the nicest people you could meet and makes time to talk to everybody.

Once we were through our administration process, they told us we had 45 minutes to have our bikes back at the hotel for the technical inspection!

Well, it’s about a 20-minute cab ride to where our bikes are stored and Pablo and I madly tried to find a cab.

Eventually, we got one but the driver took us in the opposite direction as he had no understanding of English. He was also stopping to take other passengers in the front with him and then would drop them off. We finally showed him on Google maps where we needed to be and convinced him to change direction. 

I grabbed my helmet and chest protector and jumped on my bike for the ride back to the Marriot. It was absolute chaos in the Fes traffic and I was sure I was going to get hit by a car.

Tess was waiting for me at the Marriot with my bike numbers and the technical inspection started. There were 4 different stations to pass through and all was good until the last one.

My Sherco 450 is an enduro bike with limited fuel range and is entered in the Enduro Cup Class. It has a custom rally fairing that also holds my navigation equipment, and we had emailed the organiser in August to make sure this was ok. The response was “Yes ok”.

But the FIM technical scrutineer did not pass my bike with the rally fairing despite the email from the organisers.

They have given me an extension until 9 am tomorrow to have the bike returned to its original factory specifications.

This is a huge problem as all the original parts are in Switzerland, and we are hoping to find another team with parts we can use or borrow.

After 4 hours of searching, we found an original Sherco headlight so the work could begin to re-configure my bike in time for tomorrow’s deadline.

But before taking the bike back to work on it we decided to have a quick lunch at the Marriot.

Fernando Alonso was at the table next to us. He is giving rally racing a go and is considering racing in the Dakar next year, but says he will decide after competing in Rallye du Maroc. He will be driving for Toyota. It’s great to have such high calibre people around us, and like Toby he also seemed like a pretty nice guy.

After lunch, it was time to get the bike back. That made it the second time today I had to ride through Fes. I’ve ridden through a lot of crazy cities – Bangkok, Bali, Athens, Ulan Bataar, Valencia – but Fes is the one that has challenged me the most.

Just 7km on a motorbike took me 30 minutes and the trip is almost in a straight line! I even tried the footpath at one stage but almost had a head-on with another bike.

We have a riders briefing tonight at 9 pm and then another briefing straight after that on how to operate the ERTF tracking system fitted to the bikes and vehicles.

Today has been a pretty stressful day with the bike not passing technical over something we had been told was OK. Hernan was feeling quite bad about the whole situation too, as we did discuss converting the bike back to factory specifications before coming to Africa. 

If I had the extra fuel range required I could have jumped up into the Rally FIM class, but it would have cost me an extra 3500 Euro. 

But everyone we approached for help, from the top teams and riders down to Africans on the street, all wanted to help us in some way to get the bike sorted for tomorrow. 

And it should now be all good for tomorrow morning, then the Prologue tomorrow afternoon.