After a lay-off of nearly seven months following the cancellation of this year’s Rally Kazakhstan and the rescheduling of the event in Spain, the inaugural FIA World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC) faces a hectic finale with back-to-back rounds three and four in Morocco (October 1-6) and Andalucia in Spain (October 18-23).
At the half-way point of the season, nine-time FIA World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb and four-time Dakar Rally winner Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah have been the class of the field and are separated by just one point with the Frenchman holding the advantage over his Qatari rival.
Run under the auspices of the FIA by the French W2RC promoter, the Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O.), the new series replaced the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies at the start of the 2022 season and included the Saudi Arabia-based Dakar Rally in an FIA-sanctioned series for the first time. Round two was the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, held across the remote deserts of the Rub Al-Khali in the United Arab Emirates.
Series leader Loeb and new Belgian co-driver Fabian Lurquin finished eighth and claimed points for sixth of the W2RC finishers in Abu Dhabi after a transmission issue in their Prodrive Hunter BRX. They added this score to second place overall on the Dakar back in January.
Attiyah, meanwhile, won his fourth Dakar with co-driver Mathieu Baumel and scored points for 11th in the UAE after damaging a lower suspension arm, a front-right wheel and collecting 16 hours in time penalties in his Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux.
As a result, Toyota Gazoo Racing currently holds a 33-point advantage over the X-raid Mini JCW Team in the W2RC Manufacturers’ series and is a further five in front of Bahrain Raid Xtreme, the Prodrive operation behind Loeb’s Hunter BRX.
Yazeed Al-Rajhi suffered a major setback to his rallying programme with a fire that destroyed his new Toyota Hilux at the recent Baja in Poland and the Saudi will be hoping to bounce back quickly with better luck in Morocco and Spain. He finished third on the Dakar this year and collected points for 13th in the UAE to hold a distant third in the Drivers’ Championship.
His closest rival is the fourth-placed Pole Jakub Przygonski in the first of the X-raid Mini JCW Rally machines. The former FIA World Cup champion finished sixth on the Dakar and collected points for fourth before adding third-placed points to his tally in the UAE. Fellow X-raid driver Sebastien Halpern of Argentina is ninth in the rankings after finishing the opening two rounds in points-scoring positions.
Mathieu Serradori is ranked sixth after two rounds in his South African-built Century Buggy CR6. The Frenchman finished seventh on the Dakar (fifth in W2RC) and added a further five points to his tally in the UAE.
Team Audi Sport is not registered for this year’s FIA World Rally Raid Championship but has been given permission to enter the events to develop its revolutionary new Audi RS Q e-tron machine with its state-of-the-art electric technology.
Carlos Sainz won two specials and both Mathias Ekström and Stéphane Peterhansel won one apiece at the Dakar Rally, with Ekström reaching the finish in ninth overall. It was a different story in the UAE, where Peterhansel teamed up with fellow Frenchman Edouard Boulanger to secure a start-to-finish victory – a first for the new team and the new technology in top-flight competition.
The German operation is now developing a newer, lighter and more aerodynamic version – the Audi RS Q e-tron E2 – with optimised air flow on the events in October before another challenge for honours at Dakar 2023.
Chilean driver Francisco Lopez finished third overall in the UAE and claimed maximum W2RC points, in addition to winning the FIA T3 category in his South Racing Can-Am Maverick. The former enduro rider also claimed the category success on the Dakar and heads to Morocco with a 25-point cushion over Spain’s Cristina Gutierrez (Overdrive OT3) in the points’ standings.
Rookie American Austin Jones is the leader of the T4 category in the W2RC series after two rounds. The Arizona talent teamed up with Brazil’s Gustavo Gugelmin to win his class at the Dakar and points for fourth in Abu Dhabi have given the Can-Am driver a single-point cushion over the Energylandia Rally Team’s Marek Goczal in the rankings.
Dutchman Kees Koolen is tackling the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas in a Can-Am and took part in the two opening rounds of the W2RC in an Iveco Powerstar truck entered in the T5 section with team-mates Wouter de Graaf and Gisjbert Van Uden. Koolen currently holds a 32-point cushion over Czech rival Martin Macik with his truck support crew of Frantisek Tomasek and David Svanda.