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.

The Africa ECO Race is an annual rally raid that starts in Europe and takes competitors on a journey through north-west Africa, tracking along much of the path of the original Paris-Dakar rally.

The event came about after the 2008 Paris-Dakar was abruptly cancelled one day before it was due to start amid fears of a terrorist attack in Mauritania. It was a big blow to rally teams and fans worldwide.

Organisers of the Paris-Dakar then moved the rally to South America in 2009 where it has been run for the last 11 years. For 2020 the Dakar Rally is being held in Saudi Arabia.

Two former winners of the Paris-Dakar Rally – Jean-Louis Schlesser and René Metge – felt that the teams, fans and indeed the communities of North Africa deserved a race true to the original spirit of the Paris-Dakar Rally.

And so the Africa ECO Race was born.

The 2020 rally is the 12th running of the event, and for the last 5 years it has started in Monaco – a legendary motorsports venue in its own right.

This year competitors will leave under lights on the evening of the 4th January and travel to the port of Savona in Italy. Here they will board a ferry and be transported over 2 days and nights to Tangier in Morocco.

Once in Morocco they begin their journey of nearly 6,500km through the amazing landscapes of Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Senegal. And for those who make it, they have the absolute honour of standing proudly on the podium at “Lac Rose” (Pink Lake) just outside Dakar, the spiritual end of the original Paris-Dakar.

Whilst the Dakar Rally is undoubtedly the best known and most prestigious rally in the world, many people feel that it has moved away from its original “roots”. But the Africa ECO Race aims to keep that original Dakar spirit alive for those who want to experience it.

Like all rally raid events, the Africa ECO Race is a long-distance off-road race that takes place over several days – 12 days in fact!

Competitors are supplied with a paper roadbook containing navigation instructions, normally the night before each stage, and never know the route until they receive that roadbook. It isn’t as accurate as the pace notes used in rallying, and there is never a chance for competitors to do an advance reconnaissance run.

Each stage is broken into one or more liaison stages and a timed special stage. The competitor who completes the special stage in the shortest time wins that stage, and times are accumulated to decide the overall winner of the rally.

Along the way competitors are required to pass through checkpoints and navigate to waypoints to ensure they are following the designated route. Missing a checkpoint or waypoint results in a time penalty that is added to their time for the special stage.

And while car drivers have a co-driver to navigate, bike and quad riders have to navigate on their own while riding. Concentration and multi-tasking skills are key factors in succeeding in the event!

But there are two significant things that set the Africa ECO Race apart from any other rally raid in the world – the spirit and comradery among the competitors and support crews, and the humanitarian benefits the organisers bring to the countries the event travels through.

There are no flashy hotels at night! The bivouacs are chosen far away from cities and the competitors find themselves all grouped together in the middle of the desert. So regardless of experience, skill level or team stature everyone shares the same experience during the rally. It works, and a feeling of solidarity, friendliness and mutual support encompasses the whole event just like the original Paris-Dakar.

From the outset, the event organisers also wanted to give back to the communities the rally travels through and to not leave harmful traces of the rally’s journey through the land.

The rally organisation has also created a number of projects to benefit the communities. A power project has seen solar panels installed in Mauritania to power a school in Nouakchott and a library in Chinguetti.

Some of the organisation’s vehicles are equipped with solar panels as well so they don’t draw from the local power grid or use a petrol generator, and waste motor oil is collected to be recycled in France after the race.

And the organisers have created a tree planting project in Nouakchott, the Mauritanian capital, where thousands of native trees have already been planted.

The Africa ECO Race has grown from humble beginnings, fuelled by the dream of two men to run an event that captures the original Dakar spirit and values, and operates in a way that is as environmentally friendly as possible. The 2020 event is now the largest on record – 34 nationalities are represented, overall participant numbers are up by 22% and motorbike competitors have increased by 81% – making the Africa ECO Race one of the biggest and most prestigious rally raid events in the world.

2020 Route

  • Stage 1 – 7 January 2020: Tangier to Tarda (754km/24km special)
  • Stage 2 – 8 January 2020: Tarda to Mahmid (333kms/330km special)
  • Stage 3 – 9 January 2020: Mahmid to Oued Draa (516kms/498km special)
  • Stage 4 – 10 January 2020: Oued Draa to Smara (404kms/385km special)
  • Stage 5 – 11 January 2020: Smara to Dakhla (686kms/473km special)
  • Stage 6 – 13 January 2020: Dakhla to Chami (559kms/177km special)
  • Stage 7 – 14 January 2020: Chami to Aidzidine (478kms/478km special)
  • Stage 8 – 15 January 2020: Aidzidine to Tidjikja (450kms/429km special)
  • Stage 9 – 16 January 2020: Tidjikja to Tidjikja (469kms/415km special)
  • Stage 10 – 17 January 2020: Tidjikja to Idini (600kms/500km special)
  • Stage 11 – 18 January 2020: Idni to Saint Louis (473kms/187km special)
  • Stage 12 – 19 January 2020: Saint Louis to Dakar (291kms/22km special)
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.