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Morocco Rally: The rumble of power along the avenues of Zagora.

The sun is shining; it’s about 40°C in the shade, this last September Monday has had Zagora’s large avenues quaking with the noise of engines. This peaceful tourist town in the southern part of Morocco has been host to the administration and scrutineering checks of the Morocco Rally, the fourth round of the FIA OFF-ROAD Rally World Championship.

An event that has become the training ground, for quite a number of competitors, for the next Lisbon-Dakar, as anticipated by the Rally’s mastermind Cyril Neveu. With the participation of; the official works team for Volkswagen Motorsport with four Racing Touaregs, for Carlos Sainz, Giniel de Villiers, Mark Miller and Carlos Sousa, the Team X-Raid and their drivers Guerlain Chicherit, Nasser Al Attiyah and Paulo Nobre, the Schlesser Buggies (driven by José-Luis Monterde and Dominique Housieaux), the "car" categories promises to be exciting. Without forgetting of course the "outsiders", Kenjiro Shinozuka (Nissan Technosport), Lukazs Korminicki (Buggy SMG), Isabelle Patissier (Buggy VDO-Dayton), Kis Sandor (Nissan Pick-up), etc.

On the bikes, the favourite is the Portuguese Ruben Faria (one of the leaders from the Dakar), who has come to practise on the KTM "Big Boy", along with the Frenchman Christophe Meillat who will be testing a new Kawasaki. But hopefully, amongst the twenty odd riders taking the start, we might see the "stars" of tomorrow.

Honda to Kawasaki: Loyal to Honda for many years, Christophe Meillat has found a new love, Kawasaki. "Using the new 450KLX enduro as a base, with Franck Carbone we have prepared a real OFF-ROAD rally bike. In coming here, we hope to be able to fine tune it to a level where we can do some reproductions."

The Title in sight: Even if Luc Alphand is presently leading the championship, Carlos Sainz, here and at Dubaï for the last month, stands a good chance of winning the title. "The priority is to prepare for the Dakar, but we haven’t lost sight of the championship points either. It would be silly to ignore a possible World title", whispers the Spaniard’s co-driver Michel Perin.

Thomasse Forfeits: Whilst we were waiting for the upcoming battle of the "buggy’s" between Isabelle Patissier and Pascal Thomasse (only seconds separating them on the 2007 Optic 2000 Tunisian Rally), Thomasse declared forfeit due to medical reasons.

Schlesser on the Bench: "Just a few weeks ago I had a problem with my eyes. Luckily I was well treated at the St Roch Hospital of Nice, and my vision is back to normal. But it would have been foolhardy to race this time. My two Buggies are here at the hands of two formidable "Gentleman Drivers" who really communicate with all the team. Being team manager in these conditions isn’t so bad".

Happy Sousa: "I’ve rarely been this happy, all along my career", explains a smiling Portuguese man. "This summer I have been testing the car alongside the official drivers and engineers, and been treated as an equal, this wasn’t the case with Mitsubishi. Also, as I’m racing under the colours of team Lagos, the car is looked after by the official mechanics, something that I’m not used to".

From Skiing to Driving: Since the last Dakar in January, Guerlain Chicherit hasn’t even started a race. "But I haven’t been lazy, I managed a fourth world title in "free-ride", and I’ve been testing with the team XRaid."

The X3 in Evolution: The German team X-Raid has "evolutionised" the BMW X3 CC in every way. The centre of gravity has been lowered with a manipulation of 400kg. A newly designed gearbox. Modified exchangers, and also a new diesel "bio" engine using 25% Ethanol. Only snag is, that the engine hasn’t been tested outside the workshop. A lot of "proving" to be done.

Chabot favourite for the Production: "I haven’t raced since January and I’m ready to jump in to the fray" declares Ronan Chabot, who starts as the favourite in the Production class in his Toyota Land Cruiser T2. "We’re testing some new equipment, notably the suspension, before fitting them to the new Dakar car."

2007/09/25 | 18:34 CET | Editor: MR/HS/X-Raid

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