By Steve “Robbo” Robertson // Images KTM MEDIA LIBRARY / Transmoto.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
In January 2016, two mates and I decided to do a Chris Birch riding school across the road from where I live in the Southern Highlands NSW. Birchy and I became mates over the next couple of years and it was him that persuaded me that I had a good shot at making the cut at the qualifying event.
So, with encouragement from Birchy, a few mates and my wife, I entered the qualifier in January this year. From there it all happened pretty quickly, only a few weeks later and I was in Batemans Bay where the race was to be held a day before the Transmoto 12-Hour.
The 14 entrants met at the KTM tent where we were welcomed, given a GPS and told the sequence of activities we were to participate in over the course of the event, these stages would test our bike control, navigation skills and mechanical ability.
First up was a 180km navigation stage, then came a timed riding test. Once these were complete, we were back to see where we were placed – I was in 2nd. Next up we had to perform a bike lift and a timed tyre change.
Then the final part, one timed lap of the tight single lined Transmoto loop. Before we set out, we had been told that the first 4 spots were only separated by a few minutes so the pressure was on – not only did we need to be fast but not make any mistakes! I slid out close to the start and got stuck in the bunting on the edge of the track, this cost me time and I thought I had blown my chance at the top 2.
Once this lap was completed by everyone we waited for the big announcement, I came in second position after Rob Nowak, who was faultless over the day. I was off to Morocco.
With only 3 weeks from qualification to the rally there was a lot to get our heads around. We needed to sort a FIM World Rally licence, had to pass a medical test, get vaccinations and make sure we had the correct gear to comply with the rally requirements. I literally got my licence the day I was flying out…
THE KTM ULTIMATE RACE
On 26th March I flew from Sydney to Dubai where I met up with Rob Nowak and we took a connecting flight to Casablanca. Had a brief stopover here where we met up with some other competitors then another small plane flight to Errachidia. KTM then had vehicles waiting to take us to the Kasbah Hotel Xaluca Arfoud which be our accommodation/base for the duration of the rally.
After a much needed sleep we met up with the Kiwi competitors, these guys had inside info that the bikes were locked up in a shed out the back and since the KTM staff were not arriving for another day we thought we would go take a look at the all new KTM 790 and somehow we found our way into the shed!
Throughout the event we were supported by mechanics and staff from KTM and had coaching from three of the best offroad riders in Marc Coma, Quinn Cody and Chris Birch.
I was put with Marc Coma for some coaching on the first day. We rode about 40km out of town on a sealed road and pulled up at the base of our first sand dune where he gave us a quick bit of advice which was basically ‘take the traction control off and get into it’.
This led to bikes and bodies scattered all over the first 200m of sand! A bit more time in the sand and we headed back to camp to learn as much as we could about the navigation as many of us had little experience riding with a road book.
THE MERZOUGA RALLY
Sunday saw a short prologue and with 2 good results I was sitting in 3rd place.
On Monday was Stage 1. The conditions were perfect, about 20 degrees during the day. There was heavy rain over night causing a few washouts which made some of the riding a bit hairy.
As excited to ride as I was, I struggled to find any rhythm between riding and navigation. At the halfway point I managed to pull in in second and so continued, thinking I was doing well only to learn I had missed 4 waypoints and therefore lost a lot of time dropping me to seventh in the standings. Monday night was spent studying our road book.
Tuesday and Stage 2 – was similar to the first day, with a bit more confidence in the navigation side of things I felt a lot more comfortable out riding and kept up a consistent pace but so did everyone else so it was hard to make up for my lost time in stage 1.
Wednesday we woke to prepare ourselves for the marathon stage of the event, where we would ride out into the desert to camp overnight before riding back the next day.
On this stage we had no mechanical assistance so it was up to us to maintain our bikes – this was not helped by a sandstorm, we had to do all our maintenance with goggles on so as to protect our eyes!
After successfully completing 800km of the marathon stage I was unlucky to break down only 600m from the finish due to a crack in the ignition housing from an earlier crash, this meant I would not finish and was left with huge time penalties.
Friday was our last day. After our mechanics worked through the night changing and fixing anything that was required on the bikes, I was ready to race the final day. In the morning we rode a small road section to a small village with a backdrop of the biggest dunes I had seen all week.
At the start line there were trucks, buggies, bikes and people everywhere. A real buzz.
All the KTM Ultimate Race competitors were together as we watched the different classes competing in the Merzouga Rally take off in a motocross style start, disappearing into the dunes – it was insane. I just wanted to get out there! It was a 50km test in the dunes and the last 50km of the rally, it had a different feel knowing that this was the end. Unfortunately, I came up short again as the 790 inhaled some sand into the fuel filter ending my race by another short distance.
Competing in the 2019 Merzouga Rally as part of the KTM Ultimate Race was amazing, although it all was a bit of a blur at the time, looking back it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
Meeting and riding with a great bunch of blokes from around the world over such a variety of terrain was amazing.
We rode up wide dry riverbeds that led to vast canyons that looked like something out of country western movie, then up over huge sand dunes that were so big you would second guess whether you would actually make it up and over. The KTM crew looked after us so well. I got to experience places I would never had thought to go and ride through landscapes that blew me away.
And the KTM 790 Adventure R, what a bike! Just point it in the direction you want to go and hang on!