Merzouga, Stage 5: Benavides wins as Rodrigues ends lead Hero rider
Honda's Kevin Benavides took win in the 2016 edition of Merzouga Rally at the end of fifth stage, with Joaquim Rodrigues finishing as the lead Hero MotoSport rider on debut.
The final stage of Merzouga Rally went the classical way where the competitors ran the same loop twice starting and finishing at the Yasmina dry lake.
162km covered Stage 5 with 88km (44km + 44km) for the two road section and 74km of selective section in the big dunes of Merzouga of Chebbi.
Rookie Hero rider Rodrigues had his best outing of the rally finishing fifth in the final stage, 2m43s behind the stage winner Adrien van Beveren (Yamaha).
The Portguese kept his ninth place in the overall standings with a total time of 17hr49m08s finishing 2hr46m28s behind eventual winner Benavides.
"Stage 5 was like a Motocross race in the dunes. It was my first time and a lot of fun. I was a bit scared because I can't yet read the dunes that well," said Rodrigues.
"But I had a decent start and then a big battle with the top guys developed. I pushed to the end and passed a guy in the last corner."
Meanwhile, the only Indian CS Santosh had a difficult final stage as he crossed the line 26th, 24m19s behind Beveren.
But the Bangalore-based improved on his overall time, climbing three spots to 16th covering a total time of 19hr19m26s, finishing 4hr16m46s from the winner.
"It was a very hard week, the navigation was tough, the dunes were tough, so were the rocks and the heat," Santosh said.
"I'm happy to be here at the finish. I learnt a lot of things that will help me build towards the Dakar."
Wolfgang Fischer (Team's MD) was elated with double finish on its maiden outing. Mission accomplished, it's great both riders made it to the finish" he said.
Up ahead, with Benavides ending second and KTM's Stefan Svitko third in Stage 5, the fight for the second place in overall standings was close.
Early rally leader Svitko eventually took second finishing 3m32s behind the Honda rider as Beveren completed the top three spot, ending 9m57s behind the winner.
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