Toby Price edges in front in W2RC title race

Toby Price is now the leave W2RC leader with two stages remaining this season. Image: Supplied

Toby Price is now the leave W2RC leader with two stages remaining this season. Image: Supplied

KTM’s Toby Price has moved into the live World Rally-Raid Championship lead by taking over top spot in Rallye du Maroc with two stages to go.

The Australian started the final round of the season trailing Luciano Benavides by nine points but had made it a virtual tie for the lead when he moved into second on the overall event leaderboard at the end of Stage 2, albeit with the Argentine in front on a countback.

However, by finishing in second place again on Stage 3, Price has moved into the overall lead in Morocco, while Benavides has risen to fourth.

If they retain those positions until the end of the fifth and final stage, the two-time Dakar champion would win the title by three points.

“The 330 kays went pretty quickly; the average speed was a lot faster,” said Price after Stage 3.

“It was really rocky but the bike’s been good. We’re just trying to stay in the fight and do our best.

“I’m obviously not in top form,” he added with a hoarse voice, “but as long as I’m in with a chance of winning the world championship, I won’t give up.

“At the moment, the bonuses are giving us an advantage but of course to benefit from them you have to take the risk of riding out in front and navigating.”

Honda rider Tosha Schareina set the pace on Stage 3, his caused helped by earning opener bonuses.

Price also benefited from opener bonuses, but not to the extent that the Spaniard did given he was second onto the road, and was classified 3:06s slower.

Overall, he leads by 3:48s over Hero’s Ross Branch, with Honda’s Pablo Quintanilla third at 5:09s off the pace and Husqvarna’s Benavides another 2:41s back, and Schareina a further four seconds away.

So tight is the contest that if Benavides can gain another position in the rally standings, he would be back in front of Price in the world championship on a tie-break scenario.

Problematically also for the Red Bull KTM rider, he has now lost team-mate Matthias Walkner, who had shaped as a possible rear gunner.

Walkner crashed just 300 metres into the special and sustained a hand injury, while also damaging his KTM 450 Rally.

On the plus side for the Austrian, he is confident of being able to fight for a second Dakar victory next January.

“Unfortunately, after around three or four hundred metres, I hit a big rock in the riverbed and went right over the handlebars,” he recounted.

“Even though it was a big crash, I was able to walk away just with a sore hand.

“I don’t think the injury will affect my hopes for the Dakar, but the Rallye du Maroc is so good for training, so I’ll definitely miss out by not completing the race here.

“I have to see the positive side, that I’m not more badly injured, so I’m thankful for that and will now switch my attention to January.”

Stage 4 takes the field from Zagora to Merzouga, with 78km of liaison and a 343km special.

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