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ACCIONA | Sainz dominates Desert X Prix Race 2

ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team‘s Desert X Prix got off to a rough start when Fraser McConnell rolled on the last lap of the Grand Final on Saturday. Fortunately, Sunday was a new day and McConnell got to end his maiden weekend with the team on top.

After qualifying for the second Grand Final with the help of a heat win, McConnell and Laia Sanz dominated from start to finish as they never lost the lead. With Saturday winner Rosberg X Racing finishing last in the Grand Final, the Sainz outfit narrowed the early championship gap between the two to three points.

“Stepping into this team was such a huge step for me,” said McConnell. “So many other people could have had the opportunity, but I was chosen by Carlos (Sainz) and the team to be here. They saw something in me, they believed in me, and this gave me so much confidence to dig as deep as I could. I am living this opportunity as if it is my last, making sure I can make a name for myself and the team. Carlos has been a hero of mine growing up, so racing for him is such a feeling. It has been a very good first weekend.

“Yesterday we didn’t get what we wanted, but these things can happen when you push. We are here to win, not to be second or third, and everyone in ACCIONA | SAINZ XE Team is doing everything they can to fulfill this goal. I am going to enjoy this win as much as I can. It is a long break now until the next round, but we will go through everything to analyze what we did right and what we did wrong. We will carry the positives and work on the negatives. Awesome feeling and ready to go for it again.”

McLaren XE won the Redemption Race after passing Legacy Motor Club in the final lap, spoiling Travis Pastrana‘s hopes of finally beating his close friend and longtime rallycross rival Mattias Ekström. Pastrana even arrived in Saudi Arabia with a t-shirt listing items such as winning the Nitrocross championship and qualifying for the Daytona 500, and at the top was “beat Mattias Ekström”.

Rosberg X Racing kicks off title defence with Desert X Prix 1 win

Rosberg X Racing‘s quest for a third Extreme E title is off to a good start after winning the first race of 2024 at the Desert X Prix on Saturday, though it was probably too close for comfort.

RXR and McLaren XE scrapped for the Grand Final victory, beginning with a battle of the Swedes as the former’s Johan Kristoffersson squared off with Mattias Ekström. Kristoffersson held the two-second edge as the two swapped out for Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky and Cristina Gutiérrez.

Gutiérrez found an opening on the final lap but Åhlin-Kottulinsky managed to close it in time and score the win by just .167 of a second. The win wrapped up a Saturday clean sweep for the reigning champion, who won both of their heat races.

“Johan handed over the car in a good position, but the competition was intense, especially my battle with Cristina,” said Åhlin-Kottulinsky. “I was very happy to make the overtake and take the win.”

Although coming up short, second is still nothing to scoff at for Ekström and Gutiérrez in their maiden race for McLaren. Veloce Racing joined them on the podium while last year’s championship runner-up ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team rolled on the final lap.

2024 Sonora Rally set for October, Dakar tickets up for grabs

The Sonora Rally might not be on the World Rally-Raid Championship anymore, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be involved with the championship in some form. Like it was prior to its one-year inclusion on the schedule, the rally will remain a Road to Dakar leg in which the top motorcycle and side-by-side finishers with no prior Dakar Rally experience can earn free registration to the 2025 or 2026 edition.

While the Sonora Rally traditionally takes place in the spring, it will be moved to 21–25 October for 2024 to celebrate the ten-year anniversary.

“This year marks a special race for us,” begins an announcement from rally officials. “It’s been a decade since we first set off in the beautiful Sonoran Desert, so to commemorate, we’re ‘going back to basics.’ It’s going to be a classic competition with several surprises in store to celebrate our ‘birthday’.”

Created in 2014 by Darren Skilton and Scott Whitney, the rally is designed to provide rally raid-style racing in North America, which the Mexican state of Sonora satisfies with its ergs similar to those in other major desert rallies. It was already part of the Road to Dakar before being included in the W2RC in 2023, becoming the series’ first race in the Americas. Nasser Al-Attiyah and Daniel Sanders respectively won the FIA and FIM overalls while Sara Price (SSV) and Francisco Álvarez (bike) topped the race’s Road to Dakar. The 2023 race was held in partnership with NORRA’s Mexican 1000 in neighbouring Baja California, which took place a week later and also features a rally-style format.

The rally did not return to the W2RC in 2024 as Skilton, who serves as race director, hopes to support local competitors though he did not rule out rekindling the partnership. The October date is a week after the W2RC’s season-ending Rallye du Maroc.

2024 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge: 101 on entry list

Despite only being the second round of the World Rally-Raid Championship, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge will be missing some major star power as Dakar Rally overall winners Team Audi Sport and Monster Energy Honda Rally Team are absent. Forty-five drivers and fifty-six riders will hope to step it up in their place.

While Dakar bike winner Honda will return for the BP Ultimate Rally Raid in April, Audi is gone entirely: although Audi finally won the Dakar on the FIA side with Carlos Sainz and had plans of racing for the championship, a lack of suitable parts expedited their intended shutdown at the end of 2024 to Tuesday. Sainz, Mattias Ekström, and Stéphane Peterhansel are permitted to race for other teams and classes, though none are taking part. Peterhansel’s co-driver Édouard Boulanger will still show up to Abu Dhabi as the new navigator for Nasser Al-Attiyah, who parted ways with Mathieu Baumel after a successful decade in rally raid.

After his Dakar defence ended in disaster, Al-Attiyah hopes to make up lost ground with Prodrive. His ally Sébastien Loeb and Bahrain Raid Xtreme, who won five stages at Dakar, are not entered, though brothers Cristian and Marcos Baumgart will fill the void. With Audi and Loeb gone, the eighteen-driver Ultimate class is all the more up for grabs. Sainz’s absence means Toyota will have an opportunity to take the points lead courtesy of Overdrive Racing’s Guillaume de Mévius and Guerlain Chicherit, who respectively trail Sainz by eighteen and twenty points. Fellow Toyota driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi, fresh off winning the FIA Baja World Cup’s Saudi Baja, is aiming to go back-to-back in the ADDC.

A championship lead change is also guaranteed in Challenger as Mitch Guthrie is not racing either, which Rokas Baciuška hopes to capitalise on; Baciuška exited Dakar seventeen points behind Guthrie. Dakar winner Cristina Gutiérrez is entered but not competing for the championship.

Yasir Seaidan finished third in SSV at Dakar, which gave him the category’s points lead as Xavier de Soultrait and Jérôme de Sadeleer were not eligible for points. He will have a new co-driver for Abu Dhabi in Michaël Metge, who replaces his younger brother Adrien.

Desafio Ruta 40 bumped up a day

The Desafío Ruta 40 has received a slight schedule tweak, moving up a day from its original 2–8 June date to 1–7 June. Of course, such a minute change means it retains its slot as the fourth round of the 2024 World Rally-Raid Championship.

Race officials justified the change as to better “welcome the fans who are expecting the arrival of the best competitors in the world.”

“There is no doubt that the Desafío Ruta 40 is one of the most awaited events in the rally-raid calendar,” reads a statement. “In this sense, the Argentinean public is a key part of the essence of DR40. The passion and enthusiasm of the fans have created a special atmosphere in each edition of this prestigious rally competition. Regardless of the difficulty of the terrain where the race takes place, the Argentinean fans have already shown that there are no limits to wait in large numbers for the competitors on their way, making this event truly unique.”

With the adjustment, the Prologue stage will take place on a Sunday, 2 June, while the day before is used for final scrutineering. The race ends with the fifth and final stage on Friday. Racing in the 2023 edition also ran from Sunday to Friday, though it was held in August.

Aside from the two-week Dakar Rally, W2RC races are five stages long (not including the Prologue) so some organisers find it reasonable for those legs to take place on all five weekdays. Not every round follows this pattern such as the upcoming Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, whose Prologue is on Monday, 26 February, while Stage #5 is on Saturday, 2 March.

Kove adds entry bonuses, podium prize for Pro Moto Adventure

As SCORE International legalises rally raid bikes for the 2024 season with the creation of the Pro Moto Adventure category, one manufacturer of such bikes is stepping up to provide support. Kove Moto will offer USD$1,000 (€933.40) to the first five riders who enter the season-opening San Felipe 250 in March, as well as prize money for the top three finishers in the class at each of the four SCORE World Desert Championship races.

The Pro Moto Adventure race winner, regardless of their bike’s brand, will earn $2,500 (€2333.50). Second place receives $1,000 and third gets $500 (€466.70).

Kove has been eager to expand its footprint in off-road racing, spearheaded by its rally raid programme that competes at the Dakar Rally and World Rally-Raid Championship. In January, the Chinese marque fielded six bikes at Dakar and made their début in the W2RC’s top RallyGP division with Mason Klein, whose younger brother Carter won the 2023 Baja 1000 for bikes.

Pro Moto Adventure is open to bikes with single-cylinder engines that displace between 250cc and 650cc. Cross-country rally bikes are required to be 450cc under current FIM regulation, well within that threshold, while the FIM Bajas World Cup has a new Trail class that allows vehicles over 600cc. SCORE also mandates bikes in the class to have a windscreen and navigation tower, the latter used in rally raid to attach roadbooks and other navigation equipment though those are not required here. As such, W2RC bikes like the Kove 450 Rally are eligible for SCORE competition.

In December, Baja 500 Sportsman Moto winner Javier Rubio announced he will run the full 2024 SCORE season on a Kove 450 Rally. While the class had not been unveiled at the time, Rubio effectively became the first confirmed rider in Pro Moto Adventure, and is its only entrant for San Felipe as of this article’s publication.

Audi drops out of W2RC, ending rally raid programme early

The swan song season for Team Audi Sport‘s rally raid programme has come to a sooner end than planned. Despite winning the Dakar Rally in January, a lack of suitable parts for the Audi RS Q e-tron E2 have forced them to shut down after just one round of the 2024 World Rally-Raid Championship.

The RS Q e-tron, the only electric vehicle in the W2RC’s premier Ultimate category, relies on intricate components that are sourced from a very limited pool of vendors, some of which take as long as two years to produce. Much of the parts were used up during a disastrous 2023 Dakar Rally in which all three Audi drivers crashed out or suffered severe mechanical failures, followed by an intensive testing regimen to diagnose what went wrong. Although Audi finally broke through to win the 2024 Dakar with Carlos Sainz, attrition took its toll on his team-mates Mattias Ekström and Stéphane Peterhansel and further depleted their resources.

Audi was already set to close the team after 2024 to focus on Formula One, where they are set to supply engines for Sauber in 2026, but hoped to go out by winning the W2RC as well. Sainz’s Dakar win, the fourth of his career, gave Audi a thirteen-point edge in the manufacturer’s standings over twice reigning champion Toyota.

Q Motorsport, who provides technical support, has expressed interest in racing the RS Q e-trons following Audi’s exit.

“We have made history with this success and attracted a lot of attention worldwide,” Audi racing boss Rolf Michl stated. “It was a hard-earned and extremely emotional victory for a highly motivated team. Team Audi Sport and Q Motorsport showed exemplary team spirit in a particularly tough edition of this challenging motorsport event. After setbacks last season, we managed to turn the tide and prevailed this time around against a number of strong teams and very good drivers. My thanks go to everyone involved, whose hard work made this successful conclusion to the programme possible.”

Mohammed Al-Balooshi begins Bajas World Cup title defence with Saudi victory

Yazeed Al-Rajhi‘s hopes of winning the Dakar Rally on his home soil evapourated when he crashed halfway. A month later, while not the World Rally-Raid Championship, he began the FIA World Baja Cup on a strong note when he won the Saudi Baja for the seventh time.

Al-Rajhi set the tone when he won the first stage, but had an off performance in the second stage as he finished fourth, five and a half minutes behind winner João Ferreira. Despite Al-Rajhi’s stumble, Ferreira just narrowly missed out on closing the gap entirely as Al-Rajhi beat him by just thirty-eight seconds.

“It’s always nice to win here,” commented Al-Rajhi. “I never expected that I would become a Baja or a cross-country specialist but my first win here opened my eyes to this kind of racing. I enjoy it a lot.”

Juan Cruz Yacopini lost out to Ferreira in Stage #2 by forty-seven seconds, and was too far back to catch Rokas Baciuška for the final spot on the overall podium. Baciuška, the Stage #1 runner-up, was running his second race in the top-level Ultimate class after the Baja Aragón last summer, improving upon his ninth in that race.

Dania Akeel was sixth in her Ultimate début behind Aliyyah Koloc. Unlike the quartet ahead of them, the two are competing for FIA Middle East Baja Cup points.

2024 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge: 2,143 km in total from Al Dhannah to Abu Dhabi

The 2024 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge will start on the same day as the 2023 edition, but is slightly shorter in terms of raceable distance at 1,180 kilometres in Selective Sections compared to last year’s 1,286. However, the Emirates Motorsports Organization is making up for the decreased length in the form of a “revamped format” that inludes a second bivouac and updated route.

Although there are 106 fewer kilometres in SS, the 2024 ADDC is longer overall because of its 963 km in liaison sections that boosts the total distance to 2,143. As the race name suggests, 55 percent of the route is in open desert with 35 percent of dunes.

Final technical inspection will take place at the Abu Dhabi Energy Centre before the grid heads to the first bivouac in Al Dhannah for the five-km Prologue on 26 February. Al Dhannah is also the site of the opening stage.

The second bivouac is in Mzeer’ah in the Liwa desert. While Liwa already hosts the bulk of the rally, 2024 is the first time that it also has a bivouac. Mzeer’ah will be the start and finish for Stages #3 and #4.

The fifth and final day will take the race back to Abu Dhabi.

Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel split

One of the most decorated rally raid pairings has broken up as Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel part ways after a decade together. Neither have announced their partners for the rest of the 2024 World Rally-Raid Championship, though reports have indicated Édouard Boulanger will become Al-Attiyah’s navigator starting with the upcoming Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

Al-Attiyah and Baumel began working together in 2015, quickly making waves when they won the Dakar Rally. From there, they added three more Dakars in 2019, 2022, and 2023, as well as back-to-back W2RC titles. The duo also won the W2RC’s predecessor FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies four times from 2015 to 2017 and 2021, as well as the 2023 World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas (now World Bajas Cup). The lattermost made them the first to win both the rally raid and Bajas world titles in the same year.

Their successes also extended to traditional rallying, winning five Middle Eastern Rally Championships in 2015 and from 2019 to 2023 as well as the 2015 World Rally Championship-2.

However, the relationship fell apart during the 2024 W2RC season opener at the Dakar. Now racing for Prodrive after moving over from Toyota, they won a stage but were forced to retire halfway through the rally after suffering an engine failure, one of many mechanical issues that plagued their car. Two weeks after the Dakar, Giovanni Bernacchini replaced Baumel as Al-Attiyah’s rally navigator for the MERC’s Qatar International Rally, where Al-Attiyah’s bad start to 2024 continued as he received an early penalty before retiring on the final day.

Although a disappointing end, both gave an amicable joint statement on Monday thanking each other.

Jimmie Johnson, Legacy Motor Club joining Extreme E

With Chip Ganassi Racing departing Extreme E, it is perhaps fitting that former CGR driver Jimmie Johnson will fill the void when his Legacy Motor Club enters the series for 2024.

Johnson will team up with Gray Leadbetter for much of the 2024 season, though the team’s début at this weekend’s Desert X Prix will have Travis Pastrana in the car as Johnson is focusing on the Daytona 500. Pastrana and Johnson are friends who have raced together in NASCAR and the 2022 Race of Champions.

Legacy Motor Club races in the NASCAR Cup Series with John Hunter Nemechek and Erik Jones as full-time drivers while Johnson is scheduled to enter nine races in a third car. Johnson, a seven-time Cup champion, co-owns the team with Maury Gallagher while fellow NASCAR legend Richard Petty, who formerly owned the operation, serves as ambassador.

Although much of his career is defined by his NASCAR successes, Johnson began in off-road racing. After growing up in motocross, he starred in Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group’s stadium truck series and the Short-course Off-road Drivers Association before dabbling in long-distance desert races such as SCORE International’s Baja 1000. He only occasionally returned to off-road for events like ROC, and he and Pastrana finished runner-up in the 2022 edition’s Nations Cup in the snow and ice of Sweden.

“Our goal is to learn as much as we can and see what the future might bring,” said Johnson. “The fact this series competes globally and focuses on sustainably, inclusion, and equality really piques our interest. From a technical standpoint, the changeover to hydrogen in 2025 is really intriguing and the entire motorsports community is watching closely. Personally for me as a driver, going back to my off-road roots and to the type of racing I started my career with is going to be a blast.”

Jimmy Lewis on NORRA bike director appointment: “I want riders to have a stepping stone into rally raid events”

Baja California is a hub for desert racing, and NORRA is one of those injecting a bit of rally flavour into the region with its multi-day races Mexican 1000 and NORRA 500. The sanctioning body wants to further deliver this experience in 2024 by naming Dakar Rally veteran Jimmy Lewis as motorcycle race director. As part of his responsibilities, Lewis will design the course for bikes that emphasises what NORRA calls “easy navigation to rival off-road riding found anywhere in the world.”

He runs the Jimmy Lewis Off-Road Riding School in Pahrump, Nevada, which teaches the essentials of riding off-road bikes along with rally-oriented classes like navigation. Many top American racers have attended the school to hone their skills including reigning Dakar Rally champion Ricky Brabec, Andrew Short, and Sara Price; Price, who won a Dakar stage in the SSV category in January, specifically singled out training with Lewis when she spoke with The Checkered Flag last spring. The school also maintains a partnership with NORRA, providing both online courses and free training.

Lewis himself more than lives up to the school’s reputation as well, having enjoyed success across virtually every form of off-road motorcycle racing. In 1991, he and Team USA won the FIM International Six Days Enduro’s Junior Trophy for the Americans’ first victory at the legendary event since 1973. Seven years later, he conquered the Baja 1000 bike overall.

As a BMW factory rider, Lewis entered his first Paris–Dakar Rally in 1996. The following year, he scored a stage win and was the best single-cylinder bike finisher in fourth. Despite missing the overall podium that race, he finally broke through in 2000 when he placed third overall to become just the second American podium finisher at the Dakar, while also winning the two-cylinder subcategory. A month later, he won the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, a current round of the World Rally-Raid Championship, and remains its only outright winner from the United States. Lewis’ final Dakar in 2001 ended with a crash.

Although his competitive days have since come to an end, he is helping others break into the off-road racing world themselves. He also works as the course director for the Rebelle Rally and King of the Motos. His contributions earned him the 2017 Impact Award from the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame.

Aliyyah Koloc doing triple duty in W2RC, Middle East Baja, 24H Series

Aliyyah Koloc might only be nineteen but she already has a very diverse racing portfolio that spans multiple disciplines and surfaces. This will continue in 2024 when she pursues the World Rally-Raid Championship and FIA Middle East Baja Cup in the off-road realm as well as the 24H Series on pavement.

“It’s not easy to alternate between off-road rallying and circuits, but I am getting used to it,” Koloc commented. “It becomes easier each time to quickly switch and adapt to a very different car that I’m about to race in. It is all a matter of not transferring bad habits from the terrain to the circuits and vice versa.”

Her calendar began with the W2RC’s Dakar Rally in January, where she ran her maiden Dakar in the top-level Ultimate class after making her début in 2023 in a side-by-side. Racing a Red-Lined REVO T1+, she suffered a front axle failure in Stage #2 that dropped her down the order early on, but managed to finish twenty-fifth in Ultimate with a best stage outing of twenty-fourth in Stage #5.

This weekend, a month after the Dakar, Koloc entered the Middle East Baja Cup’s season-opening Saudi Baja and placed fifth in Ultimate. She will be going for her second championship in the four-race series after winning in 2022.

In two weeks, she returns to the W2RC for the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. She scored a class podium at the 2023 edition when she finished third in T3 (now Challenger). The W2RC consists of five rounds total.

Carl Cox Motorsport to take 2024 off, focus on Extreme H launch in 2025

Carl Cox Motorsport is the third team to drop out of the Extreme E grid ahead of the 2024 season, but it is only a year off before resuming operations when the series becomes Extreme H in 2025.

The team made their début in 2023, beginning the season with Timo Scheider and Christine GZ as drivers before Lia Block replaced the latter for the second half. CCM finished the season ninth in points with a best finish of third courtesy of Scheider and GZ at the first Hydro X Prix. Scheider has since left for SUN Minimeal Team while Block is focusing on formula racing.

“We’re delighted that our Extreme E drivers have excelled, with Timo launching his own team and Lia moving into the world of F1 Academy,” said team principal Alon Shulman. “With the first officially sanctioned FIA hydrogen race series kicking off in 2025, our preparations for Carl Cox Motorsport Extreme H are firmly underway.”

Besides CCM, Chip Ganassi Racing and X44 have also closed up shop. Although the loss of so many teams might raise concern from fans, it is important to note that the series is entering what is basically a throwaway year as it transitions to Extreme H.

“Being invited to bring Carl Cox Motorsport into the highly-anticipated Extreme H series that launches in 2025 feels like a leap into the future,” Cox stated. “We’ll be working closely with the Extreme E family over the next twelve months as we prepare to launch our championship campaign in the ground-breaking new car. We are most definitely in it to win it.”

Rally raid bikes eligible for SCORE’s new Pro Moto Adventure class

The Dakar Rally and Baja 1000 are two of the most iconic off-road races in the world, but while there are plenty of people who have raced both, it is more difficult for vehicles to do because FIA and FIM regulations differ from SCORE International‘s. In 2024, SCORE will provide an avenue for rally raid bikes in the form of the Pro Moto Adventure class.

Pro Moto Adventure bikes are defined by SCORE as “motorcycles equipped with front windscreen / tower and large capacity fuel tanks.” They must have single-cylinder engines that displace between 250cc and 650cc; modern rally bikes such as those competing in the World Rally-Raid Championship and FIM Bajas World Cup are limited to 450cc, easily meeting the requirement, and the latter has also introduced a Trail category for those over 600cc for the 2024 season. While the Bajas World Cup allows both single- and twin-cylinder engines, the W2RC restricts it to just one cylinder.

This opens the door for bikes that one will often see at the Dakar and other W2RC rounds like the Kove 450 Rally and Hero 450 Rally. On the other hand, adventure bikes such as the 2024 Africa Eco Race-winning Aprilia Tuareg 660 miss the cut either because they are dual-cylinder engines or the displacement is slightly out of range.

Unlike their desert racing counterparts, rally bikes feature a navigation tower at the front upon which a roadbook is attached, though the mount to hold one is not required here since SCORE does not use roadbooks. The tower must have a surface area of at least 120 square inches, and riders are to set it up before technical inspection at each event.

Pro Moto Adventure is a Pro class, meaning competitors pay an entry fee of USD$2,900 before the application ($3,100 if done after). Entrants in the category are assigned a number between #800X and #899X. Although a typical SCORE race runs for one day as opposed to multiple like a rally, the former is much longer distance-wise than an individual rally stage so Adventure riders may go solo or split the bike with team-mates.