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W2RC - Toyota’s Al-Rajhi/Gottschalk take maiden Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge win


Al-Attiyah’s crash and Loeb’s engine change throws W2RC title race wide open

Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi rekindled his partnership with German co-driver Timo Gottschalk and the pair were rewarded with a first ever victory on the six-day Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, round two of the FIA World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC).

Al-Rajhi inherited the lead before the start of the shortened penultimate stage through the remote deserts and towering sand dunes of the UAE’s Empty Quarter and the Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux driver held his nerve to seal victory by the margin of 12min 31sec over the experienced Czech driver Martin Prokop and his co-driver Viktor Chytka in their Ford Raptor RS Cross-Country.

Al-Rajhi said: “We did it well. We stayed clever. This race was not easy. We had a small technical problem in the last 100km. A lot of good drivers have a crash. It has been difficult for me here before and I knew I had to be clever. Timo, myself and the team had a great plan and we won the race. That was the most important. The first time I win here in the Empty Quarter, dunes and dunes and more dunes. We are very happy. I am the first Saudi to win this race.”

With Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah retiring from the outright lead after accident damage sustained on the third stage and Frenchman Sébastien Loeb incurring massive time penalties for an engine change early in the race, Al-Rajhi’s victory has thrown the race for the FIA World Rally-Raid Championship’s (W2RC) Drivers’ Championship wide open.  Loeb (101pts) now leads the series by 16 points from Al-Attiyah (85pts) with Prokop (64pts) and Al-Rajhi (63pts) also firmly in contention.

Behind the FIA T3-winning Seth Quintero and Dennis Zenz, who finished a superb third overall (see T3 section), Overdrive Racing’s Juan Cruz Yacopini and Daniel Oliveras came home in fourth in the second of the Toyotas and Argentina’s Sebastien Halpern and Bernando Graue rounded off a strong weekend for the X-raid JCW Rally Team with fifth overall in the first of the Mini JCW Rally Plus prototypes.

FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem was in the UAE and visited the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, an event he had conceived back in 1991 that became a round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies for the first time in 1993.

Speaking from the Qasr Al-Sarab bivouac on day three, Ben Sulayem said: “It’s part of my life. Being the founder of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge when the challenges were there. It means a lot to me to see something that I invested 30 years of my life in. It’s not only about the event itself, it’s also about the championship (W2RC) that I’m pushing with the teams to make sure it grows. We have to take care of the new born baby!”

Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel dominated the event for four days, winning the Prologue and the opening three selective sections comfortably to carve out a lead of 27min 03sec, but the Qatari had crashed heavily in the dunes 10km from the end of the third stage and badly damaged his Toyota.

The car landed back on its wheels with panels damaged and the windscreen missing, but the Toyota had also sustained roll cage damage to the extent that it was not possible for the five-time Dakar winner to continue on safety grounds. His demise was a bitter blow for Toyota Gazoo Racing in the quest to retain the W2RC Manufacturers’ Championship.

Al-Attiyah said: "The last part before the finish, I think 10km, it was a really fast section, no danger, nothing. Suddenly, we find a small spit in the sand from the wind and it was in sixth gear and we crashed over three or four times. We land on the wheels and nothing was left on the car, everything was destroyed but we finish the stage. The FIA decided we could not continue because something was damaged on the roll cage.”

The Bahrain Raid Xtreme operation suffered a major blow to its chances of winning both the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ titles as early as the first desert stage. Sébastien Loeb’s and Belgian co-driver Fabian Lurquin’s Prodrive Hunter suffered cooling hose issues after just 39km of the section between Al-Dhannah City and Qasr Al-Sarab and the Frenchman was forced to wait for his assistance crew.

To cap a miserable day for the team, Guerlain Chicherit had been suffering the serious effects of motion sickness in the rolling sand dunes and was forced to stop several times. As a result, he decided to withdraw the second Hunter from the race at the end of the day.

To make matters worse, the team was forced to change Loeb’s engine overnight and he, like Chinese driver Po Tian of the Hanwei Motorsport Team, incurred 50 hours of time penalties as a result, in addition to a 15-minute one for missing a waypoint. Loeb recovered well to win stage four and additional stage points earned on the final day edged him ahead of Al-Attiyah in the title race. The Frenchman was classified near the rear of the field in 34th.

Loeb said: “We finally finished it. Some good points for the championship. That’s the best we could expect when we were unlucky (SS1). We just hoped we could still be leading the championship and we’ve increased our lead, so we are happy.”

Dennis Krotov and Konstantin Zhiltsov missed out on a potential third overall when they retired their X-raid Mini JCW Rally Plus after an accident on the final stage.

Seth Quintero cruises to T3 success

Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA driver Seth Quintero and German co-driver Dennis Zenz led the T3 category for lightweight prototype vehicles from start-to-finish, setting quickest times on the Prologue and stages one and four on their way to a winning margin of 27min 45sec over their Dakar Rally-winning team-mates Austin Jones and Gustavo Gugelmin.

The performance also earned the American a podium finish and third place in the general classification and means he now leads his rival by six points in the W2RC T3 Drivers’ Championship.

The Buggyra ZM Racing crew of Emirati Alliyah Koloc and Frenchman Stéphane Duple picked up points for third overall, while Jean-Luc Ceccaldi/Cédric Duple (PH Sport Zephyr) and Claude Fournier/Szymon Gospodarczyk (Can-Am) rounded off the top five.

Mitch Guthrie and Kellon Walch won stages three and five in their Red Bull-backed T3M MCE-5 but early technical issues ruined a good result for the American duo.

Saudi Arabia’s Dania Akeel was holding fourth with German co-driver Taye Perry before being disqualified for the non-compliance of the Can-Am’s turbo charger restrictor.

Cristina Gutiérrez and Pablo Moreno Huete ran out of fuel early in the race in their Red Bull Can-Am Factory Racing Maverick and the Spaniards were later awarded time penalties for a technical issue. A turbo charger issue meant they did not start the final stage. 

Official Team Audi Sport driver Mattias Ekström teamed up with South Racing to gain more experience in the dunes with co-driver Emil Bergkvist in a Can-Am. After winning the Prologue and running out of fuel on the first stage, the Swede was fastest in T3 on stage two and then suffered engine issues on the subsequent stage. He was fastest overall on SS4, only to be awarded a 50-hour penalty for changing the engine block the previous evening. The Swede eventually finished 35th after finishing second on the final stage.

Defending World Champion Baciuška wins T4

Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team racer Rokas Baciuška and his Spanish navigator Oriol Vidal stormed to the top of the W2RC T4 standings after leading the FIA T4 category from start-to-finish. The Lithuanian won the Prologue and the first and third selective sections to seal victory by 12min 03sec. He also scored points for seventh in the overall W2RC classification and leads the category by 48 points.

Main competition on the event came from the local crew of Mansour Al-Helai and Mohammed Al-Hamri. The Emiratis won stages two, four and five on their way to second place. But they are not registered for the W2RC and points for second place went to the third-placed Spanish driver Pau Navarro and Frenchman François Cazalet in an FN Speed Team Can-Am.

The Italian duo of Michele Cinotto and Maurizio Dominella incurred 20 hours of time penalties on the second stage and later retired their Polaris after stage four, while Japan’s Shinsuke Umeda teamed up with Argentina’s Facundo Jaton to finish third in their Polaris RZR Pro R, despite losing time on the last stage.

The FIA World Rally-Raid Championship continues with the Sonora Rally in Mexico on April 22nd-28th.

Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge – final positions:

1. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 16hr 28min 06sec
2. Martin Prokop (CZE)/Viktor Chytka (CZE) Ford Raptor RS Cross-Country16hr 40min 37sec
3. Seth Quintero (USA)/Dennis Zenz (DEU) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3)16hr 58min 31sec
4. Juan Cruz Yacopini (ARG)/Daniel Oliveras (ESP) Toyota Hilux Overdrive17hr 01min 03sec
5. Sebastien Halpern (ARG)/Bernardo Graue (ARG) Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus17hr 02min 35sec
6. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (ARE)/Ole Floene (NOR) Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus17hr 17min 30sec*
7. Rokas Baciuška (LTU)/Oriol Vidal (ESP) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo (T4)17hr 25min 47sec
8. Austin Jones (USA)/Gustavo Gugelmin (BRA) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3)17hr 26min 16sec
9. Mansour Al-Helai (ARE)/Mohammed Al-Hamri (ARE) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo (T4)17hr 37min 50sec*
10. Pau Navarro (ESP)/François Cazalet (FRA) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo (T4)17hr 51min 47sec
11. Hernan Garces (CHL)/Juan Pablo Latrach (CHL) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3)17hr 54min 59sec*
12. Wei Han (CHN)/Ma Li (CHN) SMG HW 2021 Buggy18hr 09min 34sec
 *Denotes not registered for W2RC 
Rally leaders 
Prologue-SS3Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (Toyota)
SS4-SS5Yazeed Al-Rajhi (Toyota)
Stage winners 
PrologueNasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (Toyota)
SS1Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (Toyota)
SS2Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (Toyota)
SS3Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (Toyota)
SS4Sébastien Loeb (Prodrive Hunter)
SS5Henk Lategan (Toyota)* 
FIA T3 result:  
1. Seth Quintero (USA)/Dennis Zenz (DEU) Red Bull Off-Road Junior Can-Am Maverick X316hr 58min 31sec
2. Austin Jones (USA)/Gustavo Gugelmin (BRA) Red Bull Off-Road Junior Can-Am Maverick X317hr 26min 16sec
3. Hernan Garces (CHL)/Juan Pablo Latrach (CHL) South Racing Can-Am Maverick X317hr 54min 59sec*
4. Lionel Baud (FRA)/Lucie Baud (FRA) G Rally Team OT318hr 26min 29sec*
5. Aliyyah Koloc (ARE)/Stéphane Duple (FRA) Buggyra Can-Am DV2119hr 20min 09sec
*Denotes not registered for W2RC 
FIA T4 result:  
1. Rokas Baciuška (LTU)/Oriol Vidal (ESP) Red Bull Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo17hr 25min 47sec
2. Mansour Al-Helai (ARE)/Mohammed Al-Hamri (ARE) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo17hr 37min 50sec*
3. Pau Navarro (ESP)/François Cazalet (FRA) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo 17hr 51min 47sec
4. Abdullah Al-Rawahi (OMN)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo21hr 39min 07sec*
5. Enrico Gaspari (ITA)/Loic Minaudier (FRA) Polaris RZR Pro R23hr 09min 46sec*
*Denotes not registered for W2RC 
Final results and more information available on and the W2RC website.