Friday 17th January, 2020 – Idini to St Louis

Stage 10 proved to be another very tough day for competitors and a mixed bag of results for the Coca-Cola Energy/Nomadas Adventure riders.

There was a heavy sandstorm all day making it difficult for riders to see, and several very bad crashes caused rally organisers to stop the stage at CP2. The decision was made because all helicopters were involved with rescuing injured riders.

Riders still needed to complete the 600km trip to the St Louis bivouac but results were taken from CP1.

Similar to what happened two days ago, many riders are still trying to get through the stage well into the night. At 11pm local time at least 15 bikes were still out in the stage.

Fellow Nomadas rider Ashish Raorane is one of the competitors who found himself stuck in the dunes on stage 8. He spent 13 hours in the dunes overnight and then another 17 in the valet truck to order to get out.

Andrew Houlihan dropped time and several places today finishing up 28th in the stage. That has also dropped him just outside the top 20 to 21st overall.

Andrew was struggling with some very bad cramping in his right hand during today’s stage, and had a heavy fall in the dunes.

And with easier days to come now he is in a good position to finish the event.

Pablo Guillen had a better day. A 15th on today’s stage moved him up to 17th overall.

He managed to set a good pace in the early part of the stage that ultimately counted towards today’s results.

Of the other Australians, Matt Sutherland (Lyndon Poskitt Racing KTM) is on his way to a top 10 finish while Peter Caldwell continues on strongly despite being well down the rankings.

Matt’s 9th placing today dropped him 1 place to 7th overall.

Peter Caldwell has been handed over of 15 hours in penalties throughout the rally, 8 hours and 45 minutes of that coming from stage 9 and presumably for navigation errors.

It’s a tough thing to even contemplate what could have been for Peter, but without the penalties he would be close to the top 20.

It gets easier from here!

Stage 11 will see the riders cross the border into Senegal as they approach the finish of the 2020 Africa ECO Race.

This stage has a 2km transfer to the start of a relatively short 187km special stage. The route will be relatively quick with some dune crossings but no major difficulties.

The last long liaison of the rally – 284km – will bring the riders into the bivouac on the old Saint Louis aerodrome.

St Louis is located in the north west of Senegal and situated near the mouth of the Senegal River.

You can follow the riders’ timings through checkpoints and waypoints, and follow their positions with live tracking.

  • #175 – Andrew Houlihan
  • #176 – Pablo Guillen
  • #102 – Matt Sutherland
  • #136 – Peter Caldwell

And there are daily video updates on Dreamracer TV – https://ondemand.dreamracer.tv – and search for Monaco!

Thursday 16th January, 2020 – Tidjikja to Tidjikja

Andrew Houlihan has continued his climb back up the rankings in the 2020 Africa ECO Race with a 17th place in today’s 9th stage lifting him to 17th overall.

Fellow Coca-Cola Energy/Nomadas Adventure team rider Pablo Guillen finished today’s stage in 23rd which puts him 1 place behind Andrew in 18th outright.

Despite the brutality of the previous stage, 67 riders fronted the start line for stage 9.

Many riders did not reach the bivouac in Tidjikja at the end of stage 8 until the early hours of the morning, up to 16 hours behind the arrival of the first bikes. Two bikes are still showing as stranded in the dunes from the previous day.

Such is the tenacity of the people who take on these events.

Coca-Cola Energy/Nomadas Adventure team riders Andrew Houlihan and Pablo Guillen were 16th and 9th in the starting order for today’s stage, a 470km loop out through the dunes and back to the Tidjikja bivouac.

Andrew maintained a steady pace and travelled through the waypoints and checkpoints always in around 17th to 20th place.

It was a long, tough and tiring stage.

The expression says it all! Polish rider Artur Stasiaczek stuck deep in the sand.

Aussie Matt Sutherland (Lyndon Poskitt Racing KTM) has held on to his outright 6th place even after finishing today in 8th and dropping an hour to the stage winner, Husqvarna rider Paolo Lucci.

Lucci picked up a place today and sits 3rd, 40 minutes behind the rally leader, Italy’s Alessandro Botturi (Yamaha WR450F).

The third Australian in the rally, Peter Caldwell, continues on despite struggling in some of the recent stages. He is 41st overall.

We’re now getting towards the end of the rally with just 3 stages remaining. The 10th stage is a 600km day ending in Idini and has the longest special of the event – 400km.

There will be plenty of sand and dune crossings in the first half of the special, but rally organisers say that the last half will be fast with little navigation just big turns between the small dunes.

You can follow the riders’ timings through checkpoints and waypoints, and follow their positions with live tracking.

  • #175 – Andrew Houlihan
  • #176 – Pablo Guillen
  • #102 – Matt Sutherland
  • #136 – Peter Caldwell

And there are daily video updates on Dreamracer TV – https://ondemand.dreamracer.tv – and search for Monaco!

Coca-Cola Energy/Nomadas KTM rider Pablo Guillen
Wednesday 15th January, 2020 – Aidzidine to Tidjikja

A brutal 8th stage of the 2020 Africa ECO Race has decimated the field, with many riders still out in the Mauritanian dunes well into the night.

More than 15 hours after they started the stage many competitors, including some cars and trucks, are still trying to make their way through the difficult dunes to the bivouac in Tidjikja.

Some will not make it before midnight, if at all.

The Coca-Cola Energy/Nomadas Adventure team of Andrew Houlihan and Pablo Guillen made it through the stage relatively unscathed.

Andrew finished the stage in 16th place which now moves him into 20th overall according to the latest updates we have.

Pablo rode extremely well through the tough dunes to finish 9th in the stage. That bumps him up to 17th place outright.

The strong performance today has now put both riders back in the top 20 after losing around an hour and a half on stage 2.

Andrew Houlihan described the stage as brutal.

“It was brutal. The sand and rocks were very bad, and the dunes were extremely difficult.”

“There are still many bikes not in. I slowed right down just to be safe.”

“I was buried both wheels deep about 3 times.”

The team’s success today came from setting a reasonable pace with clean navigation. “Although I was slower today my navigation was good.”

Many of the top riders have agreed that today was one of the most difficult stages they have tackled. It was a physically demanding stage, a long hard day in the soft Mauritanian sand.

And the riders still out there as we publish this story would have to agree as well.

The best placed Australian in the event, Matt Sutherland (KTM), finished 6th today and that was enough to move him up 3 places to 6th overall.

The other Australian rider, Peter Caldwell (KTM), struggled somewhat – 34th in the stage and now 6 places down to 23rd overall.

Stage 9 is a loop from the Tidjikja bivouac and back, the only loop stage in the 2020 event.

Organisers say it the most beautiful special stage of the rally and participants will be really spoiled by what they will see during the day. They say they have a little surprise which will only be revealed the day before!

And of course, there will be more sand!

After the initial sand and pebble section, the riders will negotiate a section that alternates between dunes and large open spaces. Towards the end of the stage is a long sandy climb between large narrow rocks.

You can follow the riders’ timings through checkpoints and waypoints, and follow their positions with live tracking.

  • #175 – Andrew Houlihan
  • #176 – Pablo Guillen
  • #102 – Matt Sutherland
  • #136 – Peter Caldwell
Tuesday 14th January, 2020 – Chami to Aidzidine

Andrew Houlihan has continued his climb back up through the rankings in the 2020 Africa ECO Race and now sits just outside the top 20.

Andrew (Coca-Cola Energy KTM 450 Factory Rallye) finished today’s stage in 13th place and has moved up 9 places to 22nd overall.

Today’s 7th stage took the riders on a 480km ride through deep sand and dunes!

The first part of the stage crossed through dunes and camel grass, and after the refuelling point at waypoint 3 the riders had a small reprieve as the track opened up to some fast sections alongside the Mauritanian railway.

But heading into the final part of the stage, riders were faced with some very complicated dune crossings and difficult navigation.

Andrew described the situation so well:

“The sand was some of the most difficult I’ve ridden, very hot and soft and the dunes were not able to be judged.”

“It was also very difficult to navigate through the dunes as the wind was very strong and you had no tracks to follow. It was impossible to go anywhere close in a straight line.”

“The dunes were crazy difficult, not big but just steep up and down and much tougher than anything I’ve ridden in Australia like the Simpson Desert or Hattah Desert.”

Andrew’s progress through the difficult stage shows why he has become a strong contender in international off-road racing.

He started today alongside last year’s winner Alessandro Botturi (Yamaha WR 450F).

“Botturi took off very fast and I could just manage to keep with him for the first 5km.”

However Andrew’s pace and a mistake by Botturi put him in front of the Italian rider for much of the first part of the stage.

At the first checkpoint Andrew was in 16th, and by checkpoint 2 he was placed 4th, just 3m07s behind the stage leader.

At the refuelling point, waypoint 3, Andrew was 8th and Botturi was now making up ground quickly. He passed Andrew and eventually finished the stage second to retain the overall lead.

But at that point in the day Andrew also realised he was getting very tired and knew he had a long and bad dune section coming up.

“It was like they were never going to end. For the last 50km I had no other rider in sight and a few times thought I was lost but was happy to see the finish line and bivouac.”

And as well as the tough terrain there are the animals to deal with.

“I had one very close call with a crazy camel that jumped out in front of me at 140kph today!”

Andrew’s Coca-Cola Energy/Nomadas Adventure teammate Pablo Guillen finished 21st today and held on to his 26th place overall.

Fellow Australians Matt Sutherland (KTM 450 Rally), who won stage 6, was 18th today and remains 8th outright and Peter Caldwell (KTM 450 Rally) is now 17th.

Tomorrow’s Stage 8 is going to be similar in difficulty, with a 3km transfer stage, 429km special followed by an 18km liaison.

The stage ends in Tidjikja, the capital of the Tagant region of central Mauritania. The city is on a stony plateau with an elevation of 400m.

To get to Tidjikja, riders will first have to negotiate sand tracks, stony sections, wadis (dry river beds) and of course some challenging dune crossings.

Of the original 75 entrants in the motorcycle category, 66 are expected to start tomorrow’s stage. You can follow the riders’ timings through checkpoints and waypoints, and follow their positions with live tracking.

  • #175 – Andrew Houlihan
  • #176 – Pablo Guillen
  • #102 – Matt Sutherland
  • #136 – Peter Caldwell
  • #101 – Alessandro Botturi
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.

Saturday 11th January, 2020 – Smara to Dakhla

Tough navigation has taken its toll on a number of riders in the 5th stage of the 2020 Africa ECO Race, including Australians Andrew Houlihan and Matt Sutherland (Lyndon Poskitt Racing/KTM 450 Rally).

Waypoint 3 seemed particularly hard to find and a number of riders got very badly lost. Only 22 of the 70 riders who started the day managed to find the waypoint, and Andrew was in a group of riders lost for almost an hour.

Andrew explains: “There was a small group of us and we were all sure we were on the right cap heading. Over the 30-40km we ended up maybe 1-2 degrees off and 10km off track. Almost every rider got caught out but our group were the worst.”

Andrew says a helicopter had to drop fuel to one rider who had ran out of fuel in the confusion.

Up to Waypoint 3 Andrew had shown that he has good pace and has adapted well to the Coca-Cola Energy KTM 450 Factory Rallye bike. He was sitting 13th at Waypoint 2.

“The good thing is I was sitting in 11 or 12 place for most of the morning until the cap navigation error and riding at a nice steady pace.”

The navigation issue has dropped Andrew 4 places and he now sits 36th outright, but he remains postitive about the rest of the rally. He is loving the new KTM, and says his energy levels are good. It’s a long way to go and the race really picks up once the competitors cross into Mauritania in Stage 6.

Also hit hard by the tough navigation was Matt Sutherland. Matt is the leading Australian at this stage but he also missed Waypoint 3 and lost well over an hour today, finishing the day 1h49m49s behind stage winner Alessandro Botturi (Yamaha WR 450F) and 29 seconds behind Andrew.

Fellow Coca-Cola Energy KTM rider Pablo Guillen was also among the 48 riders who missed Waypoint 3 but finished the day 18th. He is now 29th overall.

The riders now have a well earned rest day in Dakhla, and the teams have a chance to do some more intense maintenance on the motorcycles.

Stage 6 will be a 600km day but has to be an early start as the competitors will need to stop at the border with Mauritania for customs formalites.

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
Thursday 9th January, 2020 – Mhamid to Assa

A very strong result in Stage 3 has moved Andrew Houlihan back up the standings in the 2020 Africa ECO Race.

Andrew finished the stage in 20th position (17th in his group), which has moved him up 21 places. He now sits 37th overall.

Fellow Coca-Cola Energy/Nomadas Adventure team rider Pablo Guillen also had a good day. Pablo, whose bike places him in a different group to Andrew but still within the same category, put in the fastest time in his group to finish 14th in the stage and now sits 36th overall.

After losing time because of mechanical issues with Andrew’s bike in Stage 2, both riders started the day from well back in the field. Andrew said that starting that far back meant the road had a lot of dust and was quite dangerous.

Andrew lost a bit of time early on in the stage:

“We had a 30km dune section in the morning which was quite difficult. I got stuck in on the face of some big dunes 3 times and had to dig the bike out with my hands. I lost a fair bit of time in the dunes and was quite exhausted by the time I got out.”

“The rest of the day was fast and very rocky with some sand sections. Navigation was good today with only a couple of minor mistakes.”

Andrew also says he’s now getting the hang of the new Coca-Cola Energy KTM 450 Factory Rallye bike. He had not ridden the bike before Stage 1 of the rally, but says he is finding the suspension much better and that the bike has so much more power in the dunes.

Stage 4 takes the riders to Smara, a city in the Moroccan part of Western Sahara. It is an entirely new 404km stage with a 385km special. The rally organisers say the stage will have some interesting gravel tracks with a few rocky parts but they expect it to be fairly fast. There is a very fast chott – dry salt lake – and a very technical wadi – river crossing – that will test the riders skill and navigational abilities.

Wednesday 8th January, 2020 – Tarda to Mhamid

Despite being sidelined for an hour and a half with a fuel pump issue, Andrew and the Coca-Cola Energy KTM have put in a strong performance on the second day of the 2020 Africa ECO Race.

Heading out 38th in the morning, Andrew very quickly showed he could set a good pace and passed more than 15 riders in the first 200km. But then a fuel pump issued brought the bike to a standstill.

“Today started out well, I passed about 15 riders in the first 200km and then when my rear tanks were empty I switched to the front tank and had a fuel pump failure in the middle of no where.”

Andrew Houlihan (Coca-Cola Energy KTM 450 Factory Rallye)

In the true spirit of the race, teammate Pablo Guillen stopped to assist and also sacrificed time.

So how do you fix a fuel pump issue in the middle of the Moroccan desert? You think outside the box!

The guys transferred the fuel from the front tank to the operational rear tanks using Andrew’s camelbak.

Unfortunately that meant Andrew had no water for the last 150km and arrived at the bivouac in Mhamid dehydrated.

Despite the setback Andrew says the bike feels great and he’s feeling good apart from a little disappointed after the mechanical problem today.

“I had made up so many places and time in the 200km before the pump failure.”

If it were not for the mechanical issue, Andrew’s pace would have him in the top 20 after yesterday’s stage.

There are still 10 days to go in the rally, and Andrew’s attitude is to take 1 day at a time and make sure he keeps the bike and himself in a good condition.

The terrain the competitors are racing through is very rough and demanding. And early morning temperatures are very cold with minimums down as low as 2-5°C. Daytime temperatures are hovering around 15-18°C. At least there is no rain forecast.

Stage 3 is a big day for the riders with a 516km trip to the Moroccan town of Assa. The day is broken up into a 4.6km transfer leg, 497km special and a 14km liaison.

They will cross through Erg Chigaga, the largest and still untouched of the major ergs in Morocco. An erg, sometimes referred to as a sand sea, is a large area of wind blown sand with little or no vegetation and the riders will travel 28km through Erg Chigaga.

Norwegian rider Pal Ullevalseter (KTM) currently leads the rally 1m29s ahead of Italian Alessandro Botturi (Yamaha) with Englishman Lyndon Poskitt (KTM) a further 32s behind in 3rd. They are expected to lead the field out on stage 3.

Andrew and Pablo will start the stage further back in the field after yesterday’s delays.

Erg Chigaga in the Moroccan desert (Photo credit: Pranav Bhatt on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA)
Tuesday 7th January, 2020 – Tangier to Tarda

The first stage of the 2020 Africa ECO Race is done!

A 241km liaison, short 23km special stage mainly to determine the starting order for stage 2, and then another 489km liaison to the bivouac in Tarda.

Andrew’s time in the special places him 38th in the field of 73 bikes. Teammate Pablo Guillen was just 54 seconds behind and will start from position 41, and Indian rider Ashish Raorane who is also racing with the Nomadas Adventure team will start stage 2 from 33rd position.

While the short special stage didn’t really give us a good insight into who the competitive teams might be, the 750km travelled today was a good opportunity for the riders to settle themselves into their competion routine. And like many of the riders, this was Andrew’s first chance to get familiar with the new bike in the Moroccan terrain and make any last minute adjustments.

After a night in Tarda, the 73 riders will start from the bivouac on their 333km journey to Mhamid. The special makes up 329km of the distance. Andrew will start at 8:52am local time (6:52pm AEDT / 5:52pm AEST).

The terrain is expected to have many wadis (dry river beds), and is sometimes very stony and gravelly. Towards the end of the stage the riders will encounter a few small dune crossings.