Rafał Sonik won the first stage of OiLibya Rally in Morocco and took the leader’s place. His greatest rival, Kees Koolen, was only fifth, which opened the way for the Pole’s ride for another World Cup title. ‘There are still four days of hard rivalry ahead of us, and getting a place on the podium is still my goal, but I won’t deny it that today’s results are motivating,’ smiled Sonik.
The rivalry in the wilderness of Sahara is a feat for the fans since the very first kilometres of the race. Both quad riders and bikers are in for a deciding round, with the FIM World Cup and Championship title on the line. Among four-wheelers, the first hand went to Rafał Sonik. Initially, Alexandr Maksimov was classified before him, but the Russian rider received a penalty of 3 minutes and went down to the second place.
‘The atmosphere was quite nervous today. We didn’t get the roadbook for the access road of almost 350 kilometres. We were led by the organizer, who first left a group of 30 bikers and quad riders at a gas station, and then failed to find the start line. We were driving alone, with our hearts in our mouths, in the pale dawn, but luckily the locals here are very friendly. They showed us which way the previous group went at crossings,’ said Sonik.
What Rafał Sonik feared the most before today’s stage of 800 km and special stage just shy of 300 km was the response of the injured ankle to the long hours of driving. ‘It wasn’t so bad. It hurts much less than I expected. Despite the long distance, this stage wasn’t too difficult, so we’ll see how it goes further down the road, at more difficult sections. It’s good that I can keep up. I know that it’s not the level of a champion, but I’ll try to draw from my experience as much as I can. We are in for four days of serious racing,’ added Rafał Sonik, the defender of the World Cup title.
Winning the stage and five minutes of advantage in the classification created a perfect opportunity for Rafał Sonik, who is eight points behind Kees Koolen in the general classification of the World Cup. The Dutch rider is currently on the fifth place. ‘I don’t feel too exhausted, even though I only managed four hours of sleep and I got off my quad after twelve and a half hours of driving. The first test of endurance will take place tomorrow. This is what I’m now focusing on,’ he concluded.
On Saturday, the riders will face 364 km of a special stage, which will take them through numerous wadis and sections of small dunes situated close to one another. There will also be sections that will let us feel the breeze in the hair.
Results of the first stage:
1. Rafał Sonik (POL) 03:41.06
2. Bruno da Costa (FRA) +0.14
3. Aleksandr Maksimov (RUS) +0.28
4. Sebastien Souday (FRA) +3.59
5. Kees Koolen (NLD) +5.29
6. Alexis Hernandez (PER) +5.53
1. Rafał Sonik (POL) 03:52.16
1. Aleksandr Maksimov (RUS) +0.34
3. Bruno da Costa (FRA) +1.14
4. Sebastien Souday (FRA) +3.52
5. Kees Koolen (NLD) +4.58
6. Alexis Hernandez (PER) +6.21