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URAL in the Rally ORPI Morocco 2005


On the first day, we start with good spirits on the first connection stage, and we are glad that the road corresponds with the Roadbook. Obviously we don’t know how to read a Roadbook but we did have a good teacher the evening before, Carlo de Gavardo, the 450-er Cross Country Rally World Champion on a KTM. Carlos, a star in his home country, Chile, is the most sympathetic and sociable type out of the entire field of the drivers. Every evening he gave us valuable tips on how to survive the next day’s stage.


After the first connection stage, under the jubilation of the journalists and officials, and in photo-op position, we start with full throttle in the real event, the first special stage. We come back to our senses at once and drive at walking speed, still in sight of the onlookers'. The condition of the road is insane and not drivable, with rough horrible stones, a trek that mocks any description of a road. Unfortunately, it doesn't get better the entire day. The official bulletin states that the first special stage is the shortest one with 62 km (39 miles) and an ideal warm up with slightly sandy passages along the Atlantic Coast to the South. Light sandy passages are a real pleasure after the steady gravel stretch. Finally, the never ending shaking, pushing, and tearing on the handle bar stops for a while, but as soon as the sand gets a little bit deeper, it's the end of the fun. The sand slows the sidecar rig right away forcing me to shift down into first gear. With high rpm's the rear wheel digs into the sand. Claus and I have to jump down, and we push and push and push. Luckily, the sand stages are short, and we get between them on solid ground where the tires find some grip.


It takes us one hour for the first 20 km (12 miles) of the first special stage. I try to calculate in my head how long it will take for today's destination. Another 42 km (26 miles) special stage, then 68 km (42 miles) connection stage on asphalt, then again 180 km (112 miles) special stage and on the end, a 56 km (35 miles) connection stage, in total today 409 km (256 miles). With the laughable average speed we are doing, we would have to hurry up to arrive at today's destination before the next day's start time.

We arrive in the first township and the Roadbook warned, "Don't speed, limit 50 km/h (31 m/h)", there are secret radar speed controls, the GPS records our speed, there are very high fines if we exceed the speed limit, and possibly disqualification from the rally. Laughable, if ever we would be able to reach a speed of 50 km/h today.


The Roadbook shows a dangerous situation: End of a township (and the speed limit) in capital letters it shows "SABLE SAND." The evening before, Claus marked it with a red shiny marker so we wouldn't miss this passage. A small arrow left upwards means steep grade, and last, but not least, a PH in a circle means photographers are waiting for prey. We take a run at the mountain. The Ural looses power and we are stuck in the sand. We both push, and I give rpm's to the clutch, but it doesn't reach the rear wheel. From all sides, boys from the village come running with more than 30 hands in all. We somehow bring the Gespann halfway up the mountain. The clutch stinks and smokes so bad that I shut off the engine to let it rest. It then comes to mind that the rules do not allow us to get help from the native people under any circumstances, as it could result in disqualification. A hot flash runs down my back because I also remember what Carlo de Gavardo said the evening before, "You have to be extremely careful because after one hour, the race cars will come from behind, and they are very serious about the race. To them, you and your Ural are big obstacles."


Here we are, more then an hour en route, hanging in the sand in the middle of a steep hill, which also is a bottleneck. We must move out of their way right away and let all the rally cars pass without hindering them. Far away, I already see dust out in the plain, followed by a helicopter. These must be Schlesser, Peterhansl, Kleinschmitt, Roma, and others, with their HP-Rally monsters. In my mind, I already see the news on the Eurosport-TV: After 20 km (12 miles), the race was interrupted because of two delinquent Austrians with an Ural rig who took place at the Morocco Rally against all reasons, that they manoeuvred a Ural rig in a steep hill against better knowledge and pitifully failed. Therefore, Schlesser, Peterhansl, Kleinschmitt, Roma, and the others had their race interrupted and the race had to restart. I look in front of me and still see 150 meters (166 yards) of the south hill we have to master. On the upper edge, I can see the journalists from all over the world, laughing down at us. It doesn't help. We have to get up there. I start the engine. I leave Claus at the handle bar and the throttle, and here he holds on better than by pushing the rig. Besides, Claus is to blame for it if we kill the clutch. I stand in line together with about 15 Moroccans behind the rig, and together we somehow manage to get the rig over the edge.

Just in time. Covered in sweat, we are able to watch the rally cars dance over this hill without any problem. The stars are waving nonchalantly out of their windows leaving us in a cloud of dust. In this moment, I realize that we are totally out of place in this Moroccan Rally. The racecars have a weight of 480 kg (1,056 pounds) and 400 HP. Our Ural rig weighs, including driver and co-driver, 480 kg and has 40 HP!


Nevertheless, to the Moroccans here in this village, we are the stars. Curious and excited, they touch our Ural and us. After the first 10 cars pass, we also keep on going. Gratefully, we have gravel again. It is a lot more comfortable constantly being hit by the handle bar than pushing in the deep sand. Somehow, we manage to finish the first special stage. The officials at the finishing line of this stage laugh and slap us on our shoulders. We pick up our first stamp in our timetable. Of course, we are the last ones to reach this checkpoint. After us, they take the point down. For the next 68 km (42 miles) of connection stage on asphalt, we exchange tasks. Claus rests at the handle bar of the rig, and I take my place in the sidecar. Claus thinks it's easy to be on the handle bar in contrast to his job in the sidecar. I think it's a joke just to sit in the sidecar in contrast to the hard work at the handle bar. We don't speak a lot during this connection stage. Again, with enough time to think about why we are doing what we are doing and that we don't have the answer. We can't expect wisdom anyway.

We start the second special stage of 180 km (112 miles), and before I even touch the handle bar, my wrists already hurt. It's a killing stage, with 180 km of uninterrupted pain. Of course, everything is possible to do with time. We are in a race, and we can't just drive along the way the Ural and we would like it. That means we have to give up going easy, on people and machine, and accelerate so the day ends. The technically difficult passage, like crossing the Queds with the especially nice valley drives, and subsequently hill drives, are good for us. One can't drive fast with the best of intention. It is more like feeling one's way. Water fords we take with great respect, which means that Claus first wades through the ford and finds out how deep they are. I wait for his signal to go ahead, and then close my eyes and go.

For hours, we slave away. I soon realize that the GPS hangs almost down to the gas tank. The mounting of the GPS is loose. An ultra light, extremely expensive part from Touratech and already broken after 150 km (94 miles) driving the rally. We fix the GPS to the handle bar with plastic fast binders.

After some time, a car appears in the rear mirror. We are glad and stop, it's good to talk to someone in the middle of the desert. It is a follow-up car of the rally, the medical assistance car. It consistently stays 100 meters (110 yards) behind us for the next 100 km (62 miles) and gives us security.

Our Ural is running rich, and we use an enormous amount of gas, so we have to fill up the tank. We have two extra Jerry cans with us. My hands are so numb and weak that I don't even have the strength to open the lid of the tank. I have to ask Claus to do it. Two kilometers (1.2 miles) after refueling, I feel something cold and wet on my thighs. The gas tank cap is missing. We lost the tank cap. Obviously, I am even too weak to close the gas tank properly. It doesn't help that we have to turn around and look for the cap. But our personal escort, the medical assistance car, brings us the gas cap. How great!

We arrive at end of the special stage. Here we should get a stamp in our timetable. Nobody is here anymore, as the checkpoint cleared long ago, the people gone for dinner.


After the last connection stage, we arrive at the drivers' camp. The cars prepared for the next day are everywhere. The driver conference for the next day is over long ago, and the Roadbook for the next day already handed out. The results of the day posted on the board, but they change with our arrival. We are, with 14 hours driving time, the last ones, but we are on the board! We survived a whole day in the race…in a World Competition Cross Country Rally, and noted on the next day's starting list. It is a good feeling, but everything hurts. The whole body is hurting. Carlo de Gavardo advises me to go to the medical tent. There you get massages for the tired bones. I follow his advice after dinner, and Angelique made it possible so I was able to walk again after half an hour.

I fall in to a deep sleep right away. Claus learns the Roadbook for the next day by heart. Kurt tightens all screws on the Ural, cleans the air filter, and adjusts the valves. Other rally participants exchange whole engines, axels, mount new wheels, and take the gearbox apart in their carriage stronghold consisting out of workshop trucks. Yes, they said the Ural would fall apart in no time. Not so, as the motorcycle runs, and we didn't have any damage. We are astounded about the quality of our vehicle.



We are now in the second day of the Orpi Rally Morocco, and to some, a miracle we are still here. Some had said that we wouldn't even make the technical test with our Ural Gespann. This day is a pleasant day compared to the first day of the rally. Today it is a partially good track, where one can speed up quite well on a gravel course.

We are well prepared and in good spirits. The Gespann makes noises. Today, Birgit, our team manager rubbed and bandaged my hands and forearms with Franzbrandwein (kind of rubbing alcohol). Our camel bags are full with energy drinks. Red Bull does not sponsor Heineken or us, so Birgit makes us a special drink out of black tea, honey, salt pills, lemons, and brandy.

At the start, the officials nicely greet us, but ask us to drive a little bit faster than yesterday. Today there are no connection stages only one 409 km (256 miles) long special. The day will bring us deep into the interior. There are really fast stages in this part.

The second day soon claims tribute. We soon pass a motorcyclist who is working on his Enduro. The ignition failed. I think about our own electronic ignition and am glad that our only electronic thing on the bike works properly. We pass another motorcycle that parks in the middle of the desert. Under the small shade lays the driver. He doesn't remember how he broke his shoulder, as he fell and blacked out. The Rally is over for him. We pass a Nissan who has overseen a hole in the course. The front axle looks unnatural, and not usable, out of the frame, impossible to repair. The race is over for him.

What's the official description of today's stage? "To begin this special stage, the competitors travel 60 km (38 miles) along the Qued Chebika on a highly enjoyable, technical, but never damaging track, which demands a great deal of navigation." This translates to a stony, painful, terrible track…catastrophically (sorry about the expression) B.S., just like the whole day yesterday.

Then, it becomes extremely fast, and for the first time we can enjoy the rally. We arrive at a plain. The track becomes wide and is relatively drivable. It is a good gravel track, which allows high speed. As far as you can see, there is nothing: no tree, no brush, no hill, no deepening in the tract of land, only an infinite plain. For me as an Austrian mountaineer, it is somewhat unpleasant with nothing you to orient yourself. We ride along and everything goes well. We look at each other, grinning and satisfied.

After a short time, our trip master falls out. That's a catastrophe and a small shock. The trip master is important. It shows exactly how many meters we've driven. We absolutely need the trip master for orientation in the Roadbook. Without the trip master, we don't know where we are. How can we survive the next 300 km (188 miles) in the desert without navigation? For the time being, it is no problem. We are riding straight ahead in the desert. The track shows no difference between the track and the area beside the track, but it is marked with little stone men, left and right in irregular distance. They advised us the day before always to stay within these stone men. Outside of these markers, there is a danger to hit land mines. Last, but not least, we are within a war zone. The conflict between Sahauris and Moroccans about the sovereignty of the West Sahara isn't settled yet.

Here, at full speed of almost 100 km/h (62 m/h), into the stony desert in the South of Morocco, I miss a deep depression, a rough hole, a crater. It comes totally unexpected. The Roadbook warns about such dangers, but I haven't used the Roadbook today for quite some time. I can't use it because our trip master fell out and without the trip master, you can't read the Roadbook. And so this crater suddenly appears. First, one tries to slow down…. that is the instinctive reaction…but the wrong one. Claus, my co-driver, recognizes the mistake and screams loud. I scream back even louder! Claus and I stop breathing at the same time. Immediately before the abyss, at full throttle, together we pull the Gespann up in the front, I on the handlebar and Claus on the sidecar handle. I stand firm in the foot pegs and put my behind as far as possible to the rear. Claus stands firm on the sidecar platform and hangs his butt out as far as possible. Like question marks, we leave this side of the edge of the crater and after a short flight, land with the front wheel on the other side of the crater. My hands try to correct the terrible blow to the handle bar, but somehow the uncontrollable Gespann climbs into the air again. Now the hit to the sidecar, yes - unpleasant, but this time it hits mostly on Claus. Then the rear wheel strikes out at the edge of the hole and catapults the rear of the Gespann full force at my backside. Unfortunately, my vertebra is an unsuitable shock absorber. Like a miracle, I avoid going down headfirst. Slowly we get some feeling back in our hands, and we can feel our headache from our neck being jammed into our skull. We've had this feeling once today but the second time is even more intense. We land, a very harsh landing, but we dare to breathe again. Thanks to Haslacher Hans, we survive! Our "White Power" chassis guru equipped the Rally Gespann with first class springs, costing good money. High tech springs on a low tech Gespann.

In the future, we have to work with the daily trip counter on the Ural. That didn't work well, we learned, when we almost overturned twice because we didn't recognize the holes in the track. One can't get accustomed to the 100-meter (110 yards) wide freeway without two-way traffic. Construction sides are not marked with colorful traffic signals. It isn't very good for the Ural to speed over this gravel after almost overturning. The Gespann suddenly pulls to the left. I shout at Claus that we probably don't have enough air in the front tire. We stop. We check the tire, but nothing special to see. We take the high tech air pump, from Kurt, our mechanic, out anyway. We play quite a long time with this thing until we realize that it is defective. We have a broken air pump on-board. It doesn't matter though, as there is enough air in the front tire. So, we keep driving. Soon I start to realize that the handle bar hangs to the left side. The Gespann pulls very hard left. We stop again and look at the front wheel. Suddenly I see the cause. The lower bolt on the earl's fork is missing. The swing is holding on only by the shock absorber. The left side of the fork is already 10 cm (4 inches) away from the holder on the earl's fork. It doesn't look good. I search in the spare nut and bolt box even though I know I won't find a long 10 mm (3/8 inch) bolt. That means we have to find a bolt somewhere on the Ural that is not too important and that we don't necessarily need. The closest we can find is the bolt from the center stand axle. It has the same length, but unfortunately has no thread, only a hole to put a cutter pin in. It has to work, as we have no other choice. So, we bury a nice green painted center stand with the springs in the west Sahara Desert. With four hands and big effort, we get this piece in position and are able to get it through the holes on the fork, put a cutter pin in, and use lots of duct tape. It works! The Ural runs straight again. What a relief! I drive slower. Repeatedly, I look at the bandaged fork, but the bolt holds.

We are out of gas again. We have to fill up the tank. Only now, we realize that we lost one of our two jerry cans. Panic arises because we are not sure if we will make it to the next fuel stop with 10 liters (2.5 gallons). We fill the tank with 10 liters of race gas, which we got the evening before from the KTM team. Kurt, our mechanic, told us the Ural probably won't appreciate the 100-plus-octane race gas, and he was right. It stutters and spits and the performance is bad…then…sometimes it works well, and then sometimes the Ural doesn't like this race gas at all.

Suddenly, we get to another checkpoint in the middle of the desert. We are relieved. We get our stamp for the time card. We look for the checkpoint in our Roadbook and put the daily counter to zero. By the checkpoint lays a broken down French buggy. We ask the pilots for a 10 mm screw and nut. Indeed, the co-pilot takes a suitable screw, even with a self-locking nut, somewhere out of the broken buggy and mounts it on our Ural. We put the screw from the center stand in our spare box. You never know, we may need one again. It's still 80 km (50 miles) to go to the next checkpoint and to the next fuel stop. It should be okay. The 80 km are murderous. It continues straight ahead and becomes unbearably hot. Somehow a real hot wind blows. Sometimes the Ural has less power, as it doesn't like this high-grade gas. I become unable to concentrate and fall in a flow. Finally, far away, we can see a rise on the horizon and some outlines in the wasteland. Some single plants show up, and the track becomes narrower and curvy. We get closer to a town, which is also the second checkpoint.

I am very exhausted. It is intolerably hot, 45 degrees C (113 F) in the shade. I squeeze myself in the little shade from the official's cars. The hot wind feels as if you are in a sauna pouring water over the hot stones. The officials are glad to see us because for them it means they can leave this horrible hot place and can go to the camp. I get a pastis (anis drink). I feel the alcohol right away. The drink also influences my decision to leave out the next checkpoint and to drive together with the officials to the bivouac on a paved road. So far, we never missed a checkpoint, so we can allow ourselves to beat the time a little bit. Our justification is the broken down trip master and for this last stage it is very important to be able to navigate. And so it happened today, for once we are not the last one to arrive at the camp.

The stars also use some tactics. Cyrill Despres, the star of the KTM motorcyclists, comes in first on the second day of the race. One hundred meters (110 yards) before the finishing line, he goes down off his bike and waits for the second drive, Marc Comar, to come in. Why does he do that?

The winner of the second day starts first on the third day of the race and on this day, it goes in to the sand dunes where you need very good navigation skills. It is easer to start second because you can follow the tracks of the bike in front of you. Marc Coma sees Cyrill Despres waiting in front of the finishing line and gets down as well. Both are waiting for the third to arrive. He laughs and crosses the finishing line first. The jury doesn't laugh, and both, Despres and Coma, get a 15-minute time penalty for non-sportsmanlike behaviour. Coma accepts the penalty, but Despres, the star, doesn't and decides to end the rally. The number one is eliminated. But, the number 35 isn't and appears proudly at the start on the third day. The number 35 is the Ural Gespann with Hari at the handle bar and Claus in the sidecar.

We fix the trip master so it at least shows digital zeros. However, if we drive 80 km/h (50 mph) or 20 km/h (12 mph), or even if we drive in reverse, it makes the trip master wonderfully useless. Today is the day of the dunes. In the middle of the dunes is a checkpoint. Carlo de Gavardo advises us not even to try to reach this checkpoint because it's unreachable for the Ural. He said we should try to get around the dunes and start with the second checkpoint. We decide to look at it first, so we ride to the dunes. On the way there, we cross a very large dry salt lake. Wonderful, very smooth ground. We leave our marks in the salt lake. We are able to ride as fast the Ural goes. It's real fun, but it doesn't last long because at the end of the salt lake the sand dunes tower upward. The first rise we are able to master with the built-up speed from the salt lake, but in the deep sand of the middle of the plateau, it ends. We are stuck. We manage to get the Ural by the journalists' cars on the side of the track and park it there. The photographers are waiting at the abyss of the first dune and gesture towards us that we should go down the dune. No, no, not us. First, we want to see what's awaiting us over there. We walk over to the first dune and there, down in the gully lays a buggy on his roof, overturned. What a photo opportunity for the waiting photographers. They really tried to lure us into this sand hole! Maybe even at full speed over the edge so we could land on top of the buggy! It would make for another great picture.

I take off my helmet, sit with the photographers, and end the race. I understand, here and now, that the race is over for us. One of the officials is running to the top of the first dune and waves wildly with his hands to warn the oncoming cars of the obstacle down in the gully. The crew of the overturned buggy tries with help of a 4x4, to get the car on its wheels again. In the meantime, some of the following cars jump left and right of the accident into their own ruin, as many are stuck in the deep sand. Soon, trucks with towing ropes and shovels appear. It is all very entertaining. After the last vehicle of the big truck class masters the dune and disappears behind the next dune, it is time for us to go home. We try to get around the dunes and follow for 10 km (6 miles), but we are not able to find a suitable spot to cross the dunes. It seems there is no end to this dune zone, so we give up for good.


While the others slave through the sand, we drive to the next starting point of the next special stage. There the officials convinced us to give up. There would be lots of sand in the next stage and for our Ural Gespann impossible to overcome. Since we also lost our trip master, we decide to give up. For the last days of the rally, we travel with the assistance cars but still get enough time to do some off road riding, without any pressure. Now, Birgit rides the Gespann most of the time. She probably would have been a better rider anyway."


Hari Schwaighofer, Ural Motorcycles GmbH

Aktualisierung: 2013/07/31 - 08:31 / Redakteur: UralCC webmaster
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