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What is the Merzouga Rally - Springboard to Dakar

Sukul Bahl
CONTRIBUTOR
Preview
05 May 2017, 16:00 IST

The 2017 Africa Merzouga rally raid promises to be better than ever as the Hero MotoSports Rally Team gears up to compete in its second year as a part of the prestigious Dakar series . 

A gruelling six day event from May 7th to 12th combining five stages / a prologue and a marathon through the desert; the Merzouga Rally raid acts as a perfect training ground for competitors preparing them for the toughest rally race on the planet - the Dakar Rally.

Set in Merzouga which is in the south-east region of the kingdom of Morocco, the rally course is made of 1200 kilometres of fully off road specials which poses a stiff challenge to the competitors with its dunes & rocky terrain.

The Hero Motosports Rally team looks all set to take this challenge head on as they gear up for participating in the first of two mini Dakar events this season in a bid to ramp up preparations for their 2018 Dakar conquest. On the back of a successful debut season, their determination and desire to better the results and impressive benchmarks set by them in 2016 is undoubtedly strong.

Coming of an exceptional win in the previous Dakar series event, the India Baja 2017 and a 12th place finish in the Dakar 2017, Hero’s ace Portuguese rider Joaquim ‘JRod ‘ Rodriguez is ready to roar at the upcoming Merzouga 2017 rally.

CS Santosh, India’s premier off-road racer and notably the only Indian rider to compete thrice and successfully complete the Dakar rally twice was forced to sit out of the India Baja rally due to injury. However, he has recovered well and is ready to bounce back in an emphatic fashion at the eighth rendition of the Merzouga rally raid. 

Under the high patronage of his majesty King Mohammed VI, what makes the Merzouga rally raid the ideal stepping stone to Dakar are its similar regulations and open navigation challenges. While the desert terrain is more open compared to the Dakar, the varying and ever shifting dunes coupled with the intense heat offer a unique challenge to riders and lay bare the mental and physical requirements that need to be fulfilled to race in Africa.

The riders will also have the capable guidance of Marc Coma, 5 times Dakar winner and race director for the event, who will personally run training workshops offering the riders his unique insights and experience whilst keeping the ultimate goal of Dakar in mind. One of the biggest challenges of Merzouga as Marc Coma would say is in its big dunes and knowing how to recognise and tackle them. 

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The Hero MotoSports Team Rally is no stranger to these conditions with our very own Indian Baja and Desert Storm events having taken place in their home turf of Rajasthan in January and April 2017. Presenting similar but unique challenges compared to the African and South American rallies, this rally raid is crucial for the team to train and prepare holistically towards the final target – the Dakar 2018.

With the hot and demanding conditions set to take their toll in the Merzouga Rally, both of the Hero Motosports riders will be drawing upon their Indian rally experiences to physically and mentally prepare themselves.

The 2016 Merzouga Rally was incidentally Hero MotoSports Team Rally’s first outing as a team after forming a strategic alliance with Speedbrain GmBH, the German off road specialist. Both riders had a strong showing in 2016 finishing 9th and 12threspectively out of a field of 102 starters in the Moto Pro Class; a truly commendable feat. 

The Merzouga Rally is particularly unique, so as to meet the needs of the professional riders and amateurs alike, and features a division of the route in 2 categories for all three classes - bikes, quads and SxS.

The Pro Course is open to pro riders and forms the ultimate challenge while the Expert course is a technical and navigated route but comparatively less extreme which comprises of 75% of the Pro Course.

As such, the rally raid is perfect for those tackling the desert terrain for the first time and introduces the Dakar world in the perfect way with an opportunity to break through. With three free Dakar 2018 registrations up for grabs and automatic qualification for all bike finishers, no doubt the motivation will be high for both the pros and amateurs. 

Of note technically, both of the Hero Motosports riders along with the rest of the competitors will be using the GPS Unik2, the same unit as used in the Dakar Rally, which will act as an aid in crucially familiarising them with the navigational elements. Time and again, this has proven to be the key factor in efficiently managing the six desert stages and thereafter concluding with the final stage near the town of Erfoud. 

As they return to Africa, the team will undeniably have its bars set higher with a year’s experience under its belt. After earning the unique distinction of being the only manufacturer with 100 % of its riders and bikes crossing the finish line in the 2017 Dakar rally, the Hero Motosports Team rally looks to further build upon its impressive results so far. 

Also Read: The Rise of Hero MotoSports and India on the International Rally Arena

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