W2RC - Saudi Arabia hosts massive entry for the series' season-opening Dakar Rally


2024 FIA World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC) - Dakar Rally Preview

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia plays host to the 46th Dakar Rally and the opening round of the 2024 FIA World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC), which start in Al-Ula on Friday (January 5th) and finishes in Yanbu on January 19th. FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem will be in attendance alongside H.R.H. Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Faisal Al-Saud, President of the SAMF and member of the World Motor Sport Council.

This is the fifth occasion that the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF) and the Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O.) have come together to host the world’s most famous cross-country rally. It has attracted a capacity entry of 199 cars and trucks (70 Ultimate, 43 Challenger, 36 SSV, three Stock and 47 Trucks) and a list that features 46 crews registered for the 2024 W2RC, including twenty-two in the new ‘Ultimate’ group (formerly T1, T1+ and T1.U). 

Nasser Al-Attiyah is a five-time winner and the Qatari teams up with Mathieu Baumel to take part in the event for the first time in a Prodrive Hunter running under his Nasser Racing banner. With nine-time WRC champion Sébastien Loeb not registered for the W2RC this season in his BRX Prodrive Hunter, Al-Attiyah’s Nasser Racing by Prodrive team has registered for the W2RC Manufacturers’ Championship and will take the fight to Toyota Gazoo Racing, Team Audi Sport and the X-Raid Mini JCW Team.

Toyota Gazoo Racing is aiming for a third successive Dakar victory and will be attempting to retain its Manufacturers’ crown in 2024. Al-Attiyah may have moved on to pastures new but Brazil’s Lucas Moraes and co-driver Armand Monleón will represent the South African team in the latest version of the Hilux alongside new recruit and defending Challenger (formerly T3) champion Seth Quintero and his navigator Dennis Zenz. Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi is also registered for the Manufacturers’ Championship on his home event with co-driver Timo Gottschalk. 

Additional W2RC-registered Toyota drivers are Juan Cruz Yacopini, Guerlain Chicherit, Guillaume de Mévius, Lionel Baud, Eugenio Amos and Denis Krotov in five Overdrive Racing machines and Saood Variawa in a Toyota Gazoo Racing-entered car. Former winner Giniel de Villiers will also drive a TGR Toyota but is not registered for the W2RC.

Team Audi Sport has registered four-time Dakar winner Carlos Sainz, French legend Stéphane Peterhansel and Mattias Ekström for the W2RC Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ Championships. They will be co-driven by Lucas Cruz, Edouard Boulanger and Emil Bergkvist.

This will be the third time that the German operation has tried to win the Dakar in the latest versions of its revolutionary electric RS Q E-Tron E2. The team won five special stages in 2022 and Ekström went on to finish ninth. 

Last year, the Swede led after the Prologue and eventually finished 14th and Sainz led for two stages before crashing heavily. Peterhansel is the most successful driver in Dakar history – with six wins on a motorcycle and eight in a car – but he was sidelined last January when co-driver Boulanger sustained a back injury after a heavy landing on stage six. 

Defending European Baja Cup champion Krzysztof Holowczyc and young Spaniard Pau Navarro – the winner of last year’s European Baja Cup in T4 - will represent the X-Raid Mini JCW Team in the Manufacturers’ Championship in a pair of Mini JCW Rally Plus machines built at Trebur in Germany. The team won six Dakars between 2012 and 2021 but has not graced the podium since Peterhansel and Sainz finished first and third in 2021. Lukasz Kurzeja and Goncalo Reis will co-drive the two Minis.

Czech all-rounder Martin Prokop (Ford Raptor), Frenchman Mathieu Serradori (Century CR6-T), Dubai-based Aliyyah Koloc (Red-Lined Revo+), Jean-Luc Ceccaldi (MD Optimus) and a pair of X Rally Team Hunters for Marcos and Cristian Baumgart round off the registered W2RC entrants.

In addition to the podium-chasing Loeb, several other drivers will be aiming for a top 10 finish but are not registered for the W2RC. Joan ‘Nani’ Roma (Ford Ranger) is a two-time Dakar champion and the Spaniard teams up with South Africa’s Gareth Woolridge in a two-car M-Sport Ford World Rally Team.

Lithuania’s Vaidotas Zala drives a Mini JCR Rally Plus, China’s Wei Han opts for a Hanwei Motorsport Team Red-Lined HW2024, the French trio of Christian Lavieille, Simon Vitse and Jérôme Pélichet drive MD Optimus Buggies and Isidre Esteve Pujol and Ronan Chabot are entered in Overdrive Racing Toyotas.

Taurus T3s and Can-Ams dominate Challenger field

Four Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbos, seven Taurus T3 Max machines and a Yamaha YXZ 1000R will battle it out for W2RC Challenger group supremacy in a sub-section of the event that has attracted 43 entries.

Rokas Baciuška won last year’s SSV (T4) category in the W2RC and the Lithuanian will represent the Can-Am Factory Team in the Challenger group on this occasion alongside last year’s T3 Dakar winner Austin Jones. Argentina’s David Zille and Portugal’s Ricardo Porém are also registered for the W2RC in their Can-Ams. 

A seven-strong armada of Taurus T3 Max machines will provide the main competition in W2RC. American racer Mitch Guthrie represents the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA in an MCE-5 after finishing second in the T3 Championship to Seth Quintero last year and runner-up at the Dakar behind Austin Jones.

The Polish family trio of Marek, Michal and Eryk Goczal wheel out three Taurus T3s under the Energylandia Rally Team banner. Despite being only 18-year-old last January, Eryk Goczal became the youngest ever stage and event winner by snatching four stage wins and the T4 category win at the Dakar. Marek and Michal finished third and seventh in T4 last January and have also graduated to the Challenger category on this occasion. 

Portugal’s Mário Franco drives the only Yamaha YXZ 1000R on the W2RC list on his second Dakar outing and Team BBR has entered a Taurus for Brazil’s Marcelo Tiglia Gastaldi. Argentina’s Nicolas Cavigliasso and Saudi Arabian female racer Dania Akeel round off the W2RC list in a pair of Wevers Sport-run Taurus T3s.

Several of the fastest drivers in the Challenger group are not registered for the W2RC this year. The Can-Am Factory Team’s Francisco Lopez was a winner of the T3 category at the 2022 Dakar and the older UTV (now SSV) group in 2019 and 2021. The Chilean starts as one of the favourites to fight for overall honours, alongside the Red Bull Off-Road Team USA by BFG’s Cristina Gutiérrez in her new Taurus T3 Max and WRC star Kris Meeke, who is a late replacement for Kees Koolen in a G Rally Team OT3. 

Other leading non-registered contenders include the X-Raid Yamaha Team’s Ignacio Casale and Pal Lonyai, local national champion Saleh Al-Saif (OT3) and Austrian Lukas Lauda (the son of former three-time F1 World Champion Niki Lauda) at the wheel of a South Racing Can-Am. 

Can-Am Factory Team’s Ferreira heads potent SSV line-up

Twelve of 36 competing SSVs are registered for the 2024 W2RC. João Ferreira is the top seed alongside co-driver Filipe Palmeiro in the official Can-Am Factory Team Maverick. But main competition for the experienced Portuguese racer comes from defending World Cup Baja SSV champion Cristiano de Sousa Batista of Brazil and his experienced South Racing colleague Eduardo Pons. American racer Sara Price drives the third of the South Racing Can-Am Mavericks. 

The Xtreme Plus Team is running a Polaris RZR Pro R for the Italian duo of Michele Cinotto and Alberto Bertoldi, while Enrico Gaspari teams up with Argentina’s Facundo Jaton to drive a second Polaris entered by the TH-Trucks Team. 

Talented local racer Yasir Seaidan, the experienced French veteran Claude Fournier, the FN Speed Team duo of Sebastian Guayasamin and Rebecca Busi, Dutchman Andre Thewessen and Spaniard Ricardo Ramilo round off the registered W2RC contenders in the SSV group. 

Non-registered drivers likely to challenge for overall SSV honours include Spaniard Gerard Farres in a South Racing Can-Am, former Yamaha factory rider Xavier de Soultrait at the helm of a Sébastien Loeb Racing-Bardahl Team Polaris and Brazil’s Rodrigo Varela in a Team BBR Can-Am. 

The route

Competitors will tackle 4,720 kilometres against the clock in a gruelling route of 7,891km.

The city of Al-Ula and its stunning landscapes play host to the pre-start formalities and the opening 28km Prologue stage on Friday. 

The Dakar caravan will be based adjacent to the Red Sea before heading southeast through the heart of the Kingdom towards stop-overs in Al-Henakiyah, Al-Duwadimi and Al-Salamiya on January 6th, 7th and 8th. 

The route then heads northeast towards Al-Hofuf for a short, tricky stage of 299km through sand dunes before heading into the deep south en route to an overnight stop at remote Shubaytah, near the frontier with the United Arab Emirates, on January 10th. 

The Dakar then features an exciting new 48-hour Marathon stage through the vast Empty Quarter from Shubaytah with competitors able to help each other with basic repairs and maintenance, although the various teams will be split over eight different overnight bivouacs. 

At 16.00hrs on January 11th, vehicles will be required to stop at the next designated bivouac they come across and will have no idea of their rivals’ stage progress. The second half of the Marathon stage will restart at 07.00hrs on January 12th. Motorcycles and quads will tackle a different route to cars and trucks.

After a long road liaison section, Saudi Arabia’s capital city Riyadh will host the rest day on January 13th before action resumes on the run west and then due north towards bivouacs in Al-Duwadimi and Hail on January 14th and 15th. 

Competitors will then cross the An-Nafud desert and the northwestern regions of Saudi Arabia en route to the final three stages between Al-Ula and the finish in Yanbu on the Red Sea on January 19th. 

Timetable of events


Wednesday, January 3 
Administration checks, Start camp, Al-Ula08.00hrs-18.00hrs
Scrutineering checks, Start camp, Al-Ula08.00hrs-18.00hrs
Top driver press conference, Start camp, Al-Ula17.30hrs-18.30hrs
Thursday, January 4 
Administration checks, Start camp, Al-Ula08.00hrs-15.00hrs
Scrutineering checks, Start camp, Al-Ula08.00hrs-15.00hrs
Al-Ula opening ceremony16.00hrs
Friday, January 5   
Al-Ula-Al-Ula (Prologue – 11.12hrs) 28km
Saturday, January 6 
Al-Ula – Al-Henakiyah (Stage 1) 405km
Sunday, January 7 
Al-Henakiyah – Al-Duwadimi (Stage 2) 463km
Monday, January 8 
Al-Duwadimi – Al-Salamiya (Stage 3) 440km
Tuesday, January 9 
Al-Salamiya – Al-Hofuf (Stage 4) 299km
Wednesday, January 10 
Al-Hofuf – Shubaytah (Stage 5) 118km
Thursday/Friday, January 11-12 (48hrs) 
Shubaytah – Shubaytah (Stage 6) 532km
Saturday, January 13 
Riyadh rest day  
Sunday, January 14 
Riyadh - Al-Duwadimi (Stage 7) 483km
Monday, January 15 
Al-Duwadimi – Hail (Stage 8) 458km
Tuesday, January 16 
Hail – Al-Ula (Stage 9) 417km
Wednesday, January 17 
Al-Ula – Al-Ula (Stage 10) 371km
Thursday, January 18 
Al-Ula- Yanbu (Stage 11) 480km
Friday, January 19 
Yanbu – Yanbu (Stage 12) 175km