Skyler Howes and Luciano Benavides are back in rally action this week as round four of the 2021 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship gets underway with the Rallye du Maroc. The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing duo have completed a gruelling month of testing on the 2022 FR 450 Rally and are set to compete onboard the all-new machine at the six-day Moroccan event, held from October 8-13.
Choosing not to attend round three of the championship, the last race the team competed in was the Silk Way Rally back in early July. However, an intense training regime throughout September has kept Howes and Benavides extremely busy, with both riders working on their road book skills, fitness, as well as testing the new 2022 version of the FR 450 Rally.
A fresh iteration of the championship-winning FR 450 Rally, the 2022 model is the result of two years’ development, boosting huge improvements to key areas of the machine. A new frame, a new engine, and new slimmer bodywork are just some of the highlights of the bike. With both Howes and Benavides riding the bike in Morocco, this will be the first time it has been tested under full racing conditions.
Finishing as runner-up at the shortened Silk Way Rally, Skyler Howes once again impressed with his outright speed and ability to adapt his riding to a mixture of terrains. Although the second-place result elevated the American to second overall in the championship standings after round two, having not competed at round three in Brazil, Skyler currently lies third. Fully fit and looking ahead to Morocco and its Dakar-like mixture of sand dunes and fast, rocky desert tracks, the 29-year-old is keen to get started and gauge his performance on the new FR 450 Rally against the very best in the sport.
Forced to withdraw from the 2021 Dakar Rally due to injury, Luciano Benavides used the first half of the year to rebuild his strength and confidence. Completing the tough Silk Way Rally in a solid eighth place, the young Argentinian lies seventh in the championship standings, 12 points behind his teammate. Following the team’s constructive month of testing, Benavides is now looking forward to fighting for the top spots at the Rallye du Maroc and giving the new bike its first real-world test, racing through the dunes of Morocco.
Covering six days, and including a short Prologue followed by five demanding full stages of racing, the 2021 Rallye du Maroc is centred around one single bivouac located in Zagora. Each of the stages start and finish in the Moroccan town and are laid out in a looped format for safety and logistics reasons. Totalling 2,656.61 kilometres, the event will challenge riders with over 1,600 kilometres of timed special stage, including the short 10-kilometre Prologue on October 8 that will decide the start order for stage one. Competitors will face the classic mix of Moroccan terrain including technical desert tracks and tricky-to-navigate sand dunes.
Skyler Howes: “The downtime has been quite nice, but also really busy – we had the whole team in America at my home in Utah for about a month of testing on the new bike. To be a part of that and to help develop this latest version is really cool and a big honour. It looks like all the hard work we put in has paid off too, as the shakedown test in Morocco has gone really well and the bike feels great. We still need to run it under race conditions, but for me it’s lighter, easier to control, and it’s more forgiving in the tougher terrain. It looks like the race here will be a really good test ahead of Dakar, so I’m excited to get started, and with such a stacked field it’s going to be really fun.”
Luciano Benavides: “I’m really happy right now, we just finished the shakedown on the new bike, and it feels incredible. It’s completely new – new chassis, new engine – and for me it’s a really positive step. The team have put in a lot of hard work, and it has been good to be a part of that development. Not only does the bike feel good, but it has given me renewed motivation – I really want to see what it can do here in its first race. It’ll be a proper test ahead of Dakar and I can’t wait to see where we are compared to the others.”