Andalucίa Rally gets underway with Al Rajhi on top


As promised by David Castera, today’s first stage on the Andalucίa Rally was a resume of everything the competitors will encounter this week. In the bikes the dust that everybody was so worried about was finally not the most important factor, with the special proved favourable to those starting just outside the top ten. Kevin Benavides, Joan Barreda (Monster Energy Honda Team) and Lorenzo Santolino (Sherco TVS Rally Factory) finished first, second and third respectively. In the cars staying out of trouble was the key to success over an incident packed stage. After the cancellation of the Super Special, it was the end of the stage that was cut short. Yazeed Al Rajhi (Overdrise SA) came out on top, ahead of Carlos Sainz (Mini JCW). Nasser Al Attiyah (Toyota Gazoo Racing), managed to minimise his mechanical problems to finish third, while rival Peterhansel (X-Raid Mini JCW) was lucky to finish at all and this evening is lying in ninth place.

200 Sainz Carlos (esp), Cruz Lucas (esp), X-Raid Mini JCW Team, Mini John Cooper Works Buggy, action during the 2020 Andalucia Rally, from October 6 to 10, 2020 around Villamartin, Spain – Photo Frédéric Le Floc’h / DPPI

Playing a low profile yesterday on the Super Special, Kevin Benavides (Monster Energy Honda) started 14th this morning to win the stage, more than 3 minutes ahead of his teammate Joan Barreda: “It was a good day. I started a little behind and I was happy with that position, even if I knew it could go either way. I suffered a little in the dust but was feeling good on the bike until kilometre 170 when the road book broke, and I had to finish the stage by looking at the marks on the ground. It required a lot of concentration but in the end I won the stage, even if the last 5 kilometres weren’t easy, after seeing my brother lying on the ground. The important thing is he is OK.”

Starting respectively first, second and fourth this morning, Toby Price, Daniel Sanders and Matthias Walkner (Red Bull Factory Team) finished 17th, 19th and 12th. A disappointing day for the Austrian team who, professional as ever, are already looking towards tomorrow, as the experienced Toby Price explained. “It is never good option to start first. But it is always good to navigate alone up front and spend time on the bike. All in all it was an OK day and we will have to wait and see what tomorrow brings.” Only Sam Sunderland (Red Bull KTM Factory Team), who started 20th, managed to stay in touch with the front of the race, finishing in 5th position.

Next door, under the GasGas awning, Laia Sanz didn’t start this morning after yesterday’s crash in the super special. With her arm badly swollen, the Spanish rider decided to pull out just before the start. A further blow for the Austrians was the retirement of Luciano Benavides. Making his début in the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing colours, he crashed just 5 kilometres from the finish. Suffering from an impact to his thorax, initial medical examinations are reassuring.

The chances of seeing a Husqvarna up at the front of the rankings now depends on the performance of the Frenchman Xavier de Soultrait, riding for the HT Rally team, who finished the stage in 6th place. “The dust was hanging in the trees at the start of the rally and after 50 kilometres I thought it would be risky to push harder. At the first pause I saw that I wasn’t far from Kevin (Benavides) who is quick on these types of tracks. So I decided to hang on to him. With very tricky navigation, the kind we aren’t that used to, in the end it is better not to push too hard.”

Finishing third on the day, Sherco TVS Rally Factory rider Lorenzo Santolino expressed a similar sentiment. “It was a good day and finally the dust wasn’t too bad, as Barreda, who started in front of me, set a good pace. I was never on the limit and was surprised by my final finishing position.”

Over in the Monster Energy Yamaha Rally camp, Andrew Short started third and didn’t managed to find the right rhythm. His teammate Adrien Van Beveren also admitted to struggling to find his mark but nevertheless finished a better than expected in 4th place: “In the beginning I was tense on the bike but I eventually loosened up a bit after about 50 kilometres. I was split between attacking and holding back. It is a real rally, no doubt about that. I was expecting something more straightforward, but it was twisty with a lot of changes of direction.”

In the cars, due to a problem with the timing equipment, the start order for the special was finally in race number order with El Matador away first. Carlos Sainz (X-Raid Mini JCW Team – 2nd at 01’47): “The track was very narrow in places for this car and I had to take care – not easy. I didn’t have a good feeling and we will have to change quite a lot of things tomorrow to see if I can get a better feeling with the car.”

Behind him the 4-wheel drives discovered tracks more to their advantage, but still tricky, as Nasser Al Attiyah (Toyota Gazoo Racing – 3rd at 02’13), starting behind Sainz, discovered: “At the beginning everything was good, then after 45 kms we had a problem with the front left drive shaft, so we did 120 km with just rear wheel drive. It was not easy but I am quite happy to finish the stage without losing too much time.”

Stephane Peterhansel (X-Raid Mini JCW Team – 9th at 12’16), racing the 4×4 Mini also encountered mechanical problems whilst running in the top three: “We had a puncture but I didn’t see it straight away and we went off the track on the next corner and hit the wheel pretty hard. After that the car was a little strange to drive. Then the wishbone, that must have had a big impact, broke completely and we did the rest of the special at 20 kph. If the special hadn’t been cut short I think we would have struggled to finish it.”

Over at Toyota Overdrive SA, Erik Van Loon (7th at 10’46) suffered from three punctures with only two spare wheels… His teammate Bernhard Ten Brinke (4th at 6’56) got off more lightly with just one puncture: “The stage was quite good. In the beginning we had a good pace. Then after km 40 / 50 we came up to Van Loon and were stuck behind him until the end. I like this kind of driving but it is very important to keep on the road otherwise it is very easy to damage the car. I think the main target for the week will be to stay on the track.”

In the end it was another Overdrive SA driver, Yazeed Al Rajhi who managed to get his Toyota to the finish without problems and win the stage. “Everything ok. First we tried to find the rhythm and then we tried to push a little bit without taking too many risks. We came up behind Peterhansel and he damaged his car, so we went past him. That cost us maybe 30 seconds. Tomorrow we open the road and try and do a good job. The electronic road book is working well. It is a good idea.”

Like Yazeed, Cristina Gutierrez (X-Raid Mini JCW Team) also played it safe to finish in 5th place at 06’59. “We are really happy. You had to be careful and watch out for the rocks in the track. If you hit one you risked damaging the car. We took it easy and had no problems. Tomorrow we will carry on like that.” A strategy that Serradori-Lucquin aboard their Century SRT buggy also adopted with success.

In the SSV class, the Monster Energy Can-AM pulled off the double with Aron Domzala and Gerard Farres placing their Mavericks first and second : “ Because of the cancellation of the Super Special, we had to overtake at least ten other cars and ate a lot of dust. But we had no problems, no punctures and are delighted to be leading the SSV class this evening”. The Portuguese driver Rui Carneiro complets the podium.”

Finally, in T3 two of the three OT3 Overdrive of the Red Bull Off Road Junior Team take the first two places with Mitch Guthrie first and new recruit Kevin Hansen second. Jean-Pascal Besson aboard his Can Am X3 completes the podium.

TOMORROW: Stage 2: ‘The most technical stage of the rally’

Stage total: 336 km / SS total: 243 km / liaison total: 93 km

David Castera : “The first part is twisty and narrow. I think it will suit bikes and SSVs. The second part will be more like SP 1 coming back to the sand and tracks that are more marked that will change the rhythm, before faster tracks again.”