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As a shakedown run it was serious stuff - more than 2000km kilometres of riding in the dunes and mountains of southern Morocco, as South African off-roaders Riaan van Niekerk and Darryl Curtis put their new KTM 450 Rally motorcycles to the test for the first time by entering the recent Rally of Morocco.
It's the biggest and most important rally raid event after the Dakar, and a timely opportunity for riders to prepare for the 2013 edition of the world's longest and toughest motorcycle race in South America in January.
The route comprised more than 1500km of special stages and 500km of liaison sections in the Erfoud and Zagora regions of Morocco and the the field included a number of the world's top rally raid riders, including works KTM star Cyril Despres of France, winner of the 2012 Dakar Rally and Spaniards Marc Coma and Juan Pedrero-Garcia.
After six days of hard riding Despres finished first in Morocco, nearly seven minutes ahead of Husqvarna rider Joan Barreda of Spain and 34 minutes in front of Chile's Chaleco Lopez on a KTM. Pedrero was 11th and Coma crashed out early and dislocated a shoulder, while Van Niekerk and Curtis finished a very respectable 14th and 15th respectively.
Curtis, who finished a remarkable 22nd in the 2012 Dakar Rally on a privately-entered KTM after starting 144th in his first attempt at the iconic race, and Dakar rookie Van Niekerk will be competing in the 2013 Dakar as members of the works KTM factory team alongside Despres, Coma, Pedrero and fellow Spaniard Reuben Faria.
Curtis said: “The sand dunes and the faster road sections were very similar to what we can expect in the Dakar; it was Riaan's first time in the desert and sand dunes in a race and he did a great job. He got better each day as his confidence with the navigation and riding in the sand grew.”
The two South Africans will have a short break before their next pre-Dakar test in France on 5-9 November, where they will join the KTM factory team for five days to run in new engines and do final suspension set-up.