World Rally-Raid Championship

2023 Rallye du Maroc: Price wins in RallyGP but Benavides takes championship

4 Mins read
Credit: Kin Marcin/Red Bull Content Pool

Unless you’re NASCAR, a championship contender winning the final race of the season but not the title itself is a painful but not uncommon phenomenon.

Toby Price experienced this firsthand as he won the Rallye du Maroc overall but lost the World Rally-Raid Championship in RallyGP by just four points to Luciano Benavides. It is the closest margin for a W2RC class since its inception in 2022, a mark last held by last year’s T4 title coming down to six points and edging out the five-point 2023 T3 battle.

Price took the points lead after the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge only for Benavides to claim it two rounds later at the Desafío Ruta 40 due to a broken shock that relegated him to last in class. He entered Morocco trailing by ten points.

A runner-up finish in Stage #2 propelled Price up to second overall behind Ross Branch before overtaking him the next day due to a slow start for the latter. Unfortunately for him, Benavides won Stage #4 to creep onto the outright podium, and Price quickly realised the disaster in Argentina was going to “come back to haunt me.”

Going into the last day, Benavides simply needed to finish on the overall podium to clinch the championship regardless of Price’s result. Although Pablo Quintanilla, who was fourth, won winning the final stage, Branch crashed in the dunes and fell off the podium entirely which Benavides capitalised upon to finish second behind Price and ice the title.

“The championship is a hard one to swallow,” said Price. He will try to finish the job in 2024, but his future afterwards is uncertain as he contemplates a switch to rally raid cars. “We put up a good fight and did everything we could but 2023 just hasn’t been the greatest season for us. I’m happy in the fact that I never gave up and put in 100 percent right to the finish.”

Benavides ended the season with 100 points. Had he finished third, he and Price would be tied at 96 points each with Benavides holding the second tiebreaker of runner-up finishes with two (Abu Dhabi and Morocco) to Price’s one (Dakar Rally). While he finished second overall at the Desafío Ruta 40, winner Tosha Schareina did not compete for points and thereby made Benavides the race’s W2RC victor.

The win completes a tumultuous yet wildly successful season for the Benavides family. His older brother Kevin Benavides beat Price for the Dakar Rally win but had his year cut short by multiple injuries, though he was able to join Luciano in celebrating in Argentina and Morocco.

“It’s a dream come true for me. It’s been a long journey to get to this point from finishing my first rally here in Morocco in 2017,” said Benavides after the final stage. “To finish like this against Toby on the last day of the rally while opening the stage is incredible, I can’t thank the team enough for all the hard work and their belief in me.

“Waiting for confirmation of the championship when I finished was tense. Forty minutes felt like four hours, but I knew I gave my best today as there was no other option. It was really special to start first because I could just look forward and get on with it, and no one caught me so I finished first too. I want to celebrate and enjoy this feeling for a while because although it is amazing, it’s been a tough season and I have trained hard so I want to rest for a week or two. After that, it’s full gas again because I want to keep the same rhythm and pace for Dakar as it’s another dream for me to win.”

Schareina won two stages and the Prologue, but was in a hole early after getting lost in Stage #1 and suffered a broken exhaust in Stage #4.

The first half was particularly unkind to the RallyGP field. Skyler Howesdébut with Monster Energy Honda Rally Team was cut short when he hit a hole and crashed in the Prologue, resulting in broken bones; team-mate and fellow American Ricky Brabec retired the next day with fuel issues, as did reigning champion Sam Sunderland due to blurred vision. Price’s Red Bull KTM ally Matthias Walkner fell just seconds after starting Stage #3, while Branch’s Hero MotoSports colleague Joaquim Rodrigues never even started the rally due to an accident on the last day of shakedowns.

While Benavides won the rider’s title on a Husqvarna, Honda escaped with the manufacturer’s championship as they beat KTM by eight points; KTM was the lone multi-time W2RC winner via Kevin Benavides and Price. Honda scored a win in Abu Dhabi with Adrien Van Beveren, who finished third in points, while Quintanilla was fifth and José Ignacio Cornejo sixth. Howes was Benavides’ partner at Husqvarna Factory Racing before departing the team after the Sonora Rally.

RallyGP overall results

18Toby PriceRed Bull KTM Factory Racing15:56:43Leader
277Luciano BenavidesHusqvarna Factory Racing15:59:43+ 3:00
37Pablo QuintanillaMonster Energy Honda Rally Team15:59:55+ 3:12
416Ross BranchHero MotoSports16:01:27+ 4:44
568Tosha Schareina*Honda Team16:05:23+ 8:40
611José Ignacio CornejoMonster Energy Honda Rally Team16:09:42+ 12:59
742Adrien Van BeverenMonster Energy Honda Rally Team16:32:35+ 35:52
814Sebastian BühlerHero MotoSports17:08:59+ 1:12:16
915Lorenzo Santolino*Sherco Factory Racing17:23:11+ 1:26:28
1019Rui Gonçalves*Sherco Factory Racing17:35:18+ 1:38:35
1120Harith Noah*Sherco Factory Racing18:15:11+ 2:18:28
DNF1Sam SunderlandRed Bull GasGas Factory RacingDNFN/A
DNF2Ricky BrabecMonster Energy Honda Rally TeamDNFN/A
DNF10Skyler HowesMonster Energy Honda Rally TeamDNFN/A
DNF52Matthias WalknerRed Bull KTM Factory RacingDNFN/A
* – Not competing in World Rally-Raid Championship

RallyGP stage winners

PrologueTosha Schareina*55:15.2 (11:03.2)
Stage #1Ross Branch3:13:17
Stage #2Tosha Schareina*3:02:15
Stage #3Tosha Schareina*3:03:35
Stage #4Luciano Benavides3:35:12
Stage #5Pablo Quintanilla1:49:17

Overall winners

T1201Yazeed Al-RajhiToyota Gazoo Racing14:49:09
T2251Ronald Basso*Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body22:14:17
T3315Marek GoczałEnergyLandia Rally Team16:22:12
T4403João FerreiraSouth Racing Can-Am18:26:24
T5506Michiel Becx*Team de Rooy21:32:34
RallyGP8Toby PriceRed Bull KTM Factory Racing15:56:43
Rally232Bradley CoxBAS World KTM Racing Team17:06:37
Rally3164Cheikh Yves JacquemainAfrica Rallye Team23:42:39
Quad186Alexandre Giroud*Drag’on Rally Team21:07:24
Open Auto601Jérôme Cambier*MD Rallye Sport21:21:46
Open SSV653Tomas Mickus*BRO Racing21:42:23
Road to Dakar Bike71Toby Hederics*BAS World KTM Racing Team19:11:16
Road to Dakar SSV420William Grarre*Team Horizon Off-Road21:50:39

W2RC RallyGP standings

1Luciano Benavides100– Leader
2Toby Price96– 4
3Adrien Van Beveren76– 24
4Ross Branch58– 42
5Pablo Quintanilla55– 45
6José Ignacio Cornejo52– 48
7Kevin Benavides43– 57
8Daniel Sanders39– 61
9Ricky Brabec38– 62
10Skyler Howes34– 66
11Sebastian Bühler25– 75
12Matthias Walkner13– 87
13Franco Caimi11– 89
14Mason Klein4– 96

Manufacturer’s standings

2KTM147– 8
3Husqvarna134– 21
4Hero86– 69
5GasGas39– 116
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Justin is neither a NASCAR nor off-road racer, but he has covered them for The Checkered Flag since 2018.
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