Wednesday 9th October, 2019 – Aoufous to Fes, Morocco.

Andrew Houlihan has finished the 2019 Rallye du Maroc in 9th place overall in the Enduro Cup category, after completing today’s final stage in 12th place.

The last day of the race. 490km from Erfoud to Fes. 

Our liaison to the first special stage was 230km. We left in darkness this morning which was hard going with limited lighting on the Enduro bike.

It was also freezing cold for the first 150km.

At the 160km mark we came across a horrific head-on car accident that had just happened minutes before. It didn’t look good. I’m surprised that we didn’t see more bad accidents considering the lack of road rules and the crazy driving that goes on.

On the way to the special stage we rode through some spectacular gorges with 200 metre high cliffs and small villages in the middle. It felt like we were in an Indiana Jones movie.

My day today was really bad – just dangerous rocky tight roads!

I was going well for the first 50km until I came up on another rider Olaf Harmsen (Team Bas Dakar / KTM) from the Netherlands, and we both missed a turn.

His bike got caught in a deep hole and I couldn’t leave him there, so I went back and helped him get the bike out. I lost a fair bit of time.

Olaf and I then rode together until about 30km before the end of the stage in a rocky river bed he had a big crash in front of me and went down very hard. I stayed and helped him up, it looked like he had broken his thumb but was able to ride to the finish.

Today’s stage was just dangers everywhere and bad rocks! Up and down through the mountains and again no spots where you could rest or not pay attention.

One thing that made Pablo and I feel a little better was that when talking with the professional riders that race Dakar, every one of them said that Rally Du Maroc days were way more difficult than what to expect at Dakar.

The days might be longer but the navigation and terrain is way easier than what we just raced, plus we did a little bit of riding and racing beforehand.

We have had endless days of 200 metre high sand dunes in 50 degree heat, rocky terrain that is indescribable, camels and donkey’s to dodge. 

Not an ideal end to race but I’ve finished!

The past month in Africa has been hard on my body, I was 96kg when we arrived, I’m now 85kg.

I’ve been sleeping in a desert camp for 5 nights and only having 4-5 sleep every night, and then 8-10 hrs on the bike every day.

I have a few good injuries from Pan Africa that I have had to nurse through the past week and keep quiet. My flight home is going to be very uncomfortable.

My Sherco was damaged quite badly in Pan Africa and the guys did a great job to make it just rideable in Rallye du Maroc.

It’s time to celebrate tonight and then start preparing for our next race – The Africa Eco Race (The Real Paris to Dakar) from Monaca to Dakar January 3 -19, 2021.

Tuesday 8th October, 2019 – Aoufous, Morocco.

A 10th place in today’s 4th Stage of the 2019 Rallye du Maroc has consolidated Andrew Houlihan’s overall position in the rally.

Andrew now sits 9th in the Enduro Cup going into the final day tomorrow.

Andrew tells today’s story …

“450km today.

Every day seems to get harder, maybe it’s fatigue setting in.

I’ve been in Morocco now for 25 or 26 days and have been on the bike either racing or training for 18 of those days. And not one was an easy day of riding either.

Today we had small dunes again full of camel grass and then a mountain section that was the rockiest I’ve ever ridden. It was very technical and hard going, more suited to a trials bike.

From there it was back into sandy river beds and then fast open off-piste tracks.

I had one navigational error and lost time as did many others.

Towards the end of the day it was just a matter of staying on the bike and not making any mistakes as I was very tired.”

The final day takes the riders back to Fes with 288km of liaison and a 168km special stage. Andrew’s start time is 6:46am local time / 4:46pm AEDT / 3:46pm AEST.

Monday 7th October, 2019 – Aoufous, Morocco.

Andrew Houlihan started Stage 3 of the 2019 Rally of Morocco today in 12th place overall in the Enduro Cup category.

A consistent 14th place today has moved him (by our calculations and based on provisional results) to 10th place in the category.

Andrew says he “had a reasonable day with navigation, only losing maybe 30-40 minutes. Bike problems were minimal as well which was good.”

“I spent a lot of time today making sure I verified waypoints.”

There were no liaison stages today for the Enduro Category, just 2 special stages.

“Straight away we were into small dunes full of camel grass. It was only 10km or so of dunes at the start but they were very chopped up.”

The rest of the day was stony river beds and rock littered plains, with deep sandy small dune sections everywhere.

Andrew is still feeling the effects of his previous rally and the endless dune sections of yesterday’s stage.

“There was nowhere to take a rest today and although it was only 360km it was tough going.”

Sherco factory rider Xavier Flick continues to lead the Enduro class, and Andrew’s Nomadas Adventure teammate Juan Pablo Guillen Rivera is powering on in the FIM category. Pablo finished 45th today just 01h49m30s behind stage winner and new rally leader Toby Price (Red Bull KTM).

Andrew is listed 13th in the starting order for Stage 4, beginning at 7.23am local time ( 4.23am AEST/5.23am AEDT). Stage 4 consists of 2 liaison stages totalling 157km and a special stage of 311km.

Sunday 6th October, 2019 – Aoufous, Morocco.

Andrew Houlihan is 11th overall in the 2019 Rallye du Maroc Enduro Cup after a tough second stage.

Stage 2 was the first part of a marathon stage for the bikes, which means minimal service at the end of the day. Preserving the bike and especially the tyres is therefore very important.

“Stage 2 was extremely hard. Dunes, dunes and then big dunes with lots of sandy tracks thrown in as well. My day wasn’t so good, I had some mechanical problems that took up a bit of time, so it was a slow day for me. I think it was about 400km and I was just happy to finish the day.”

Andrew Houlihan’s comments after Stage 2 of the 2019 Rallye du Maroc

Andrew’s Nomadas Adventure teammate Pablo, who has been bumped up to the FIM category for this rally, came in with a very respectable 43rd position in his category today.

In other news from the FIM category, new world titleholder Sam Sunderland (Red Bull KTM) has had a big fall injuring his elbow and is out of the rally.

Last year’s winner Toby Price (Red Bull KTM), teammate Matthias Walkner (Red Bull KTM) and Ricky Brabec (Monster Energy Honda) all had difficulty with navigation in the dunes and lost plenty of time.

Joan Barreda Bort (Monster Energy Honda) took the stage win and the overall lead in the rally, while Toby Price finished the 9th in the stage.

Tomorrow’s stage 3 is the second part of the marathon stage with a 112km liaison and 290km special stage for the Enduro Cup runners.

Highlights Rallye du Maroc / Stage 2

📽 Watch the 2019 #RallyeduMaroc stage 2 highlights 💪#RallyeduMaroc #MarocTelecom #Afriquia

Posted by Rallye du Maroc on Sunday, 6 October 2019
Saturday 5th October, 2019 – Fes to Aoufous, Morocco.

Today’s stage took the riders from Fes to the bivouac in the heart of the desert at Aoufous, and for Andrew and the other Enduro Cup entrants that was a total distance of 347km. The FIM competitors covered close to 500km.

Andrew has finished 9th today in the Enduro Cup category after what he has described as “one of the biggest days” he’s ever had on a bike.

“Today was a Dakar type day, mountain range after mountain range, the tracks were extremely rocky and there was no chance to get a break anywhere. There were also a number of sandy and rocky river beds with plenty of dangers.”

“It was one of the biggest days physically I’ve had on a bike and I took it very easy.”

“Navigation was good but it was a day full of dangerous cliffs and rocks everywhere.”

The winding, rock-filled mountain paths forced many riders to take a cautious approach to avoid punctures or running off the track. They got some sort of relief towards the end of the stage as the terrain opened up into stretches of sand and camel grass.

Sherco factory rider Xavier Flick leads the Enduro Cup category, and after a reshuffle of timings by the FIM officials Sam Sunderland (Red Bull KTM) has been declared the stage winner in the FIM category. Original stage winner Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) has been bumped back to 5th place which moves Australia’s Toby Price (Red Bull KTM) up to 4th, 2min 6sec behind Sunderland.

Tomorrow’s stage consists of a 200km liaison and 295km special stage for the Enduro Cup riders and a 370km special stage for the FIM category.

Friday 4th October, 2019 – Fes, Morocco.

After the challenges of the last few days, all I wanted to do this morning was get on the bike. Our 2.10pm start time couldn’t come around quick enough.

The prologue stage was a short 70km route, and I had more bike problems right from the start.

The throttle that has been giving us grief for days and caused the crash in the Pan Africa Rally last week was still not working properly, and the engine was over-revving.

So I rode the stage very slowly and carefully today.

The special stage in the mountains at the back of Fes was like riding on a bed of marbles, with loose gravely stones, tight corners and some big ledges. 

And then the liaison stage took us back through that crazy Fes traffic and swarms of school children that I’ve had to deal with a few times now.

After all was done, I am happy to get through today in 16th place of the Enduro Cup Class. It’s a reasonable start to the rally for us.

Once I was back in the bivouac Hernan again went to the Factory TVS Sherco team for help. They gave us a new throttle cable to try – and it worked! We’ve taken the bikes back to the hotel now and the throttle is perfect, and that’s a big relief.

Tomorrow’s first stage is going to be a big day as we travel from Fes to Erfoud – almost 500km.

The roadbook is large, and there are a few changes to do in it this evening before heading to bed.

75km special stage

The last day!

All sand dunes today and they saved the biggest ones for last!

My bike is all good to be raced today and as I missed day 5, I was in the last pack to start. So it was always going to be a difficult day.

The first 20km of dunes were good and today we had the biggest dune yet – over 200 metres high.

When I got to the base of this one there were already 3-4 bikes stuck on the face. I followed another rider around the back of the dune and we found a better way up that wasn’t as steep.

Going down the other side was just hang on and hope for the best, there were also a few riders who had fallen on the down side.

After another 10km I had another small mechanical problem, a bolt had come loose and was preventing me from turning the bike right.

I could not see what the problem was, I only knew that I could go in a straight line or turn left.

I was also in very soft high dunes and there was no where to stop.

I rode in a straight line for about 1-2 km until I could find a safe place to stop. It took me a while to work out what the problem was and then I was back riding. But by this stage I was way off track and it was almost impossible to get back on the right route as in the dunes it is navigation by compass bearings only.

I eventually located the finish line and was elated to finish the Pan Africa Rally.

After the events of the past few days I was not concerned at all with my position, I just wanted to get through with no more bike problems and no injuries.

The body is very sore and worn, knee is a little swollen but good.

We now have 5 days rest before Rallye Du Maroc in Fes.

280km special stage
DNS – 33rd in category / 42nd overall

Day 5 of the 2019 Pan Africa Rally was a forced rest day for Andrew Houlihan.

Yesterday’s incident in the sand dunes did plenty of damage to the Sherco 500 SEF, particularly to the subframe. The good news is that Andrew did not suffer any injuries in the incident.

The team mechanics were able to repair the damage to the throttle body and housing, but the subframe needs to be replaced and with limited time and parts availabilty in Africa, the bike could not be repaired in time for the start of today’s stage.

It looks likely though that the bike could be ready in time to complete the final day which Andrew says is all big sand dunes. That will give him the chance to check the repairs done to the bike in a competition environment before moving on to the 2019 Rallye du Maroc which starts in Fes, Morocco on the 5th October.

Despite the incident and asssociated dissappointment, Andrew remains upbeat.

“Had a really positive day yesterday and was going really well until the throttle problem and then subframe. There has been quite a few accidents and the conditions and weather are brutal. Having a great time and learning a lot every day.”

The day away from competition obviously has an effect on his overall time for the event, but appears to not have affected his placing in his category. Today’s provisional results show that he has been given a default time of 12:32:46 (hh:mm:ss) and despite that he has held on to 33rd in category and 42nd overall.

Last years rally winner Michael Metge also had a DNF yesterday and did not race today, which has dropped him to 38th overall.

445km special stage, 5 km liason
DNF

An early start for a 400km day!

The first special stage was fast with a lot of rolling dunes and salt pans full of fesh fesh. I had a really good stage passing many bikes and I was feeling really good.

We had a 30 minute service and refuel before the start of our second special stage, and again I felt really good.

At the 20km mark my Stella device lost power. The Stella is a GPS tracking device fitted by the organisers that also validates waypoints and lets you know when you are within a certain distance of the waypoint. If there is a mechanical or medical issue, it also assists with communication.

I lost a bit of confidence when this failed and slowed right down.

When I arrived at the refuel point for the next 30 minute break the officials confirmed it was dead, and that a few other riders had issues with theirs as well. They needed to go back to the Bivouac for a new one and refit it, so this gave me an extra 15 minutes over the allowed time.

The last special stage started off very rocky, but then we came to some 50-100 metre high dunes.

I was riding with Pablo, and as we were about 10 metres from the peak of the biggest dune I went to back off the throttle but it had jammed! This had happened a few times over the past few days and we thought it was just getting caught under the tank somewhere.

The other side of the dune was very steep and I landed about 20 metres down. The landing for me was soft, but for the bike it wasn’t so good.

The throttle assembly was all twisted and my aluminium rear subframe was broken. I rode down to the bottom of the dune with the throttle still jammed on and the bike revving as hard as it could.

I was able to find a small path about 1km long that took me out of the dunes and then came across a desert camp. I tried to fix the throttle so I could at least ride back but the rear of the bike was too badly damaged. I waited for assurance, and they transported me and the bike back to the bivouac.

The mechanics have repaired the throttle and re-routed the cables, but the rear subframe is badly bent and broken in a couple of places. The main bolt that holds the subframe to the frame is also snapped.

I’ll wait and see what magic the guys can do overnight, but the bike will need a new subframe and some other parts before the next race starts in Fes (Morocco) in 10 days.

290km special stage, 10 km liason
38th position overall

My start time this morning was 8.50am. I had been given an 8 minute penalty for some reason, so I was now 8 minutes behind Pablo.

Thankfully, our direction this morning was opposite to the dunes, and everyone was relieved to be on flat ground for the start! The last rider from yesterday’s final dune section was not back until 1am this morning. It was a huge effort to get him out of the dunes as they are not accessible by 4WD vehicles.

After 5 or 6km this morning we were into deep “fesh fesh” on big clay pans. It’s fine dust or sand that looks like solid ground, but behaves like soft mud. The moment you back of on the throttle in the stuff you sink. It’s very dangerous, and we had a good 8-9km of it.

I managed to make up a bit of time and a few places through the fesh fesh and caught up to Pablo.

We then had open plains full of rocks and erosion ruts that you could not see. Some small dunes briefly, and then fast open sections with no tracks and very difficult navigation.

When we had finished the 1st stage all riders were directed back to the Bivouac as the second stage for the day had been cancelled. But the ride back was extremely hot again.

Pablo and I missed 2 waypoints today and received a 30 minute time penalty each, but we had a great day with me finishing in 33rd position overall and Pablo in 37th.