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.

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.

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)