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2023 Rallye du Maroc: Cambier, Mickus survive in Open category

Two cars and six side-by-side vehicles entered the Rallye du Maroc as Open entries that do not meet FIA regulations, which would have otherwise allowed them to race alongside the World Rally-Raid Championship. Not even half of them reached the finish.

Jérôme Cambier was already in position to win the Open Auto class when Patrick Prot, the only other entrant in the category, retired on the very first stage. Prot and co-driver Roger Audas had run the Dakar Rally in January in a T1 for Sodicars Racing, where they were set back by stage retirements but at least reached the finish. Even with his competition out, Cambier still needed to complete the rally if he wanted to be the winner.

Racing an MD Optimus from MD Rallye Sport alongside Pascal Delacour, Cambier set the fastest time of all Open entries in the final three stages, and his final total time beat Open SSV winner Tomas Mickus by twenty-one minutes. MD Rallye Sport also fielded three cars in the W2RC’s T1 class at Morocco with Simon Vitse scoring a top ten overall.

Mickus and Algirdas Talutis, representing the Lithuanian BRO Racing team, were the only Open SSV finishers. Issues struck Mickus quickly when his Can-Am Maverick X3 lost its power steering before the Prologue; diagnosing it as being due to the engine, he and navigator Darius Leskauskas attempted to find a replacement motor in the bivouac to little success, while the only available version was in Spain and they were unable to fly it to Morocco in time. The duo eventually received a replacement power steering system from a Renault Mégane that they installed in the morning before the rally began.

Despite operating on just two hours of sleep, Mickus won the Prologue and Stage #1. Talutis responded by taking the next two legs before Mickus closed it out with the win. Adomas Gančierius, who finished third overall in the Quad category at the W2RC’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, served as co-driver for Talutis.

2023 Rallye du Maroc: Janus van Kasteren wins final T5 championship

Trucks are a beloved category whenever they appear at the Dakar Rally, but their limited presence beyond that means 2023 is the final year where they have a World Rally-Raid Championship to compete for. After winning Dakar in January, Janus van Kasteren can call himself the final T5 champion after surviving a brutal and rather controversial Rallye du Maroc.

Van Kasteren entered Morocco with a nine-point lead in the championship after defeating Martin Macík Jr. at Dakar. With Tomáš Vrátný forty-seven points back, the second and final round of the T5 season was effectively a one-on-one.

Macík had the dominant truck as he won the Prologue followed by Stages #1 and #3, while van Kasteren’s rally began on an inauspicious note when a branch went through his windshield in the Prologue and shattered it followed by a pair of broken left shock absorbers in Stage #1. Van Kasteren also lost time in the latter when he had to stop to assist team-mate Michiel Becx, who missed a waypoint and got stuck in a dune pan for an hour due to a flat right front tyre. As Macík took Stage #1, van Kasteren finished sixth and trailed by 1:32:30, a virtually impossible gap to close on pace alone.

He finally regained his footing by winning the second stage before edging out Macík for the Stage #4 victory by just two minutes, though Macík still held the overall going into the last stage as penalties plagued the rest of the field. However, the tables turned yet again when Macík was disqualified because his truck’s turbocharger restrictor was deemed too large by the FIA. While he is appealing the ruling, the penalty blew the doors wide open for van Kasteren to seal the title for good, albeit in rather ugly fashion as his truck’s chassis broke in Stage #5. He fell to fourth overall as a result, though his Team de Rooy still enjoyed a double-victory day as Becx managed a third-place run to win the overall.

“To become world champion, we had to finish, so that was the most important thing,” said van Kasteren. “It happened fifty kilometres before the end, which is of course a shame. End of the rally, Michiel has won. Also fun and secured the world title.”

2023 Rallye du Maroc: Marek Goczal wins in T3 debut, Seth Quintero wins title

The World Rally-Raid Championship‘s T3 points battle was one of the tightest for any category since its inception as the top three—all Americans racing for Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team—was separated by nine points entering the season-ending Rallye du Maroc. Mitch Guthrie held just a three-point edge over Austin Jones with Seth Quintero in tow.

Jones spoke with The Checkered Flag shortly after the trio swept the Stage #2 podium, calling the championship fight “really hard” as “every stage matters, every day matters, every kilometre matters.” Unfortunately for him, he was unable to complete every kilometre as he one of many victims in an attrition-filled Stage #4 with his car breaking down twenty kilometres in. Guthrie, who won Stage #2, was eliminated from contention the day prior for the same reason.

Entering the final stage, Guthrie needed a “little bit of a miracle” if he wanted any shot at the title, but it never came despite winning the leg. As the last man standing of the trio, Quintero went on to finish second overall to clinch his maiden title by just five points over Guthrie.

“This championship feels like a long time coming,” said Quintero. “We’ve been on the cusp of it in previous years. Even this year, we had so many ups and downs along the way and we came into this last round third overall. We knew we just had to go for it and that’s what we did.”

With his fellow Americans out of the picture, Quintero’s main rivals for the rest of the rally were the Goczał family of EnergyLandia Rally Team, who was making their début in T3. Eryk Goczał, the family’s scion and Dakar Rally T4 winner, did not take long to adjust to his new ride as he won the Prologue and Stage #1. However, his overall lead was dashed the next day when he broke both differentials and was left stranded in the desert, prompting him to start a fire to signal for help which led to a reprimand from the FIA. He retired for good after a Stage #3 engine failure.

2023 Rallye du Maroc: Joao Ferreira wins in T4 debut

A week before the Rallye du Maroc, João Ferreira sat down with The Checkered Flag to discuss his new home at South Racing Can-Am, having made the unorthodox jump from T3 to T4 for the 2023 World Rally-Raid Championship finale and 2024 season. While Morocco was his first time racing in the class and in a Can-Am Maverick, he already had lofty goals of doing his best to win, explaining he wanted “to have fun, get used to the car. It’s the first preparation for Dakar which is our main goal. We’ll give our best to learn together with the team, the car everyday, me and Filipe (Palmeiro). I really hope in the final stage we can win Morocco.”

Thirteen days later, he lived up to his word as he and navigator Palmeiro were Morocco winners.

Despite a slow start due to an early mistake followed by a broken door latch, Ferreira took the overall lead with a fourth in Stage #2. From there, he battled for the win with South Racing team-mate Sara Price, another TCF interviewee who made her début as a W2RC driver after winning the Sonora Rally’s non-FIA Open class in April to qualify for the 2024 Dakar Rally.

Price won Stages #2 and #3, beating Ferreira in the latter by just twenty-four seconds, before Ferreira returned the favour by triumphing in the final two legs. The two were separated by just twenty-one seconds in Stage #4. Leading Price by 11:49 entering the final day, Ferreira sealed the deal as he beat her by 42:32.

Stage #1 winner Enrico Gaspari suffered a pair of engine failures, including one during pre-rally shakedown, before retiring altogether after rolling his Polaris in Stage #4. While his Xtremeplus team was certainly disappointed with how the rally ended, they were perhaps more livid with his co-driver Ricardo Torlaschi who criticised the engine reliability on social media.

2023 Rallye du Maroc: Giroud bookends Quad season with wins, Kancius scores crown

Perhaps the most memorable moment of Laisvydas Kancius‘ 2023 Rallye du Maroc was him doing doughnuts to try to extinguish a fire on the Rally2 bike of fellow Lithuanian Modestas Siliunas, to no success as the blaze continued to consume it. What he did not fail at, on the other hand, was winning a World Rally-Raid Championship in the Quad category.

Despite winning the Prologue, Kancius was not much of a factor in the rally itself as he failed to score a podium in any of the five stages. Stage #3 delivered the killing blow to his overall hopes when he received eight and a half fours in time penalties for missing a waypoint and failing to finish due to electrical problems. He was able to repair his Yamaha Raptor 700 in time to continue the rally, eventually finishing seventh overall of nine finishers, over twelve hours behind winner Alexandre Giroud.

While the finish was his worst of the season, Kancius virtually had the championship locked up entering Morocco. He led Rodolfo Guillioli by sixteen points going into the finale; in order for Guillioli to pull off the comeback, he would have needed to win while Kancius either retired or finished seventh for W2RC riders at best, the latter impossible as there were only six such entrants. Kancius’ seventh overall was good for fourth among championship contenders, while Juraj Varga beat Guillioli for the W2RC win.

Kancius ended the season with 82 points, nine ahead of Guillioli, and a win at the Sonora Rally.

“A lot of strength, effort, nerves, time, and everything possible were put into this result,” said Kancius. He is one of two Lithuanian W2RC champions alongside Rokas Baciuška in T4. “Although the Morocco Rally was a bigger challenge than I expected and at one point it seemed that everything was slipping out of your hands, but when you are so close to the goal, you can’t give up.”

2023 Rallye du Maroc: Romain Dumontier completes all-podium run with Rally2 title

Bradley Cox finished the 2023 World Rally-Raid Championship on a tear as he won the Rally2 class at the final two races of the season, but his campaign was ultimately a story of “what could have been”. He hurt his elbow on the first day of the Dakar Rally, which sidelined him for the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge before mechanical issues plagued him at the Sonora Rally, and he ended the calendar fourth in points.

Still, closing out the year by winning the first stage of the Rallye du Maroc and never letting go of the overall lead was a pretty nice consolation prize ahead of next year’s Dakar. Cox won the Prologue and Stage #1, eventually building up such a strong advantage that he could ride more conservatively on the final day and finish fifth but still take the outright win with ease.

Romain Dumontier was the only Rally2 rider to score podiums in every race he entered, winning at Dakar and Sonora followed by a third at the Desafío Ruta 40 and second in the Rallye du Maroc. While he dominated the class in his two victories, the pair of non-wins were still displays of consistency as he never finished a stage lower than fourth. Even when he missed the podium in Stage #4, it was only by a minute and a half to Paolo Lucci.

“A season full of pitfalls but we managed to get through to the end,” Dumontier described the year. He finished runner-up in the 2022 Rally2 standings.

Lucci entered Morocco trailing Dumontier by thirteen points but was unable to overtake him in the championship or rally overall. He was the lone Rally2 rider to enter all five rounds but crashed out in Argentina.

J.J. Yeley to race Israel support livery at Homestead

As the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas continues into its second week, J.J. Yeley has partnered with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews for the next two weekends of NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Martinsville Speedway. The Fellowship will sponsor his cars through the new “Race to Support Israel” campaign.

“As a Christian, my faith has always been a guiding light for me,” said Yeley. “Partnering with The Fellowship to support Israel during these trying times is not just an opportunity, but a calling. Together, we are making a difference by providing tangible assistance to those in need.”

Yeley failed to qualify for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Homestead in the #4 Chevrolet for JD Motorsports with The Fellowship backing, but is on the grid for the Cup event on Sunday in the #15 Ford of Rick Ware Racing.

The Fellowship is a philanthropic nonprofit organisation dedicated to Christian and Jewish relations as well as humanitarian programmes for Israel. “Race to Support Israel” seeks to raise awareness for the war and funds for bomb shelters and essential resources for civilians and emergency workers.

Interestingly, Yeley has prior experience with driving an Israel-centric car. In 2012, he entered the Daytona 500 in a #49 car fielded by Robinson-Blakeney Racing under the “American Israel Racing” banner; AIR was co-founded by NASCAR engineer Mark MacCaull and Rich Shirey, the latter a Baptist but staunchly pro-Israel. Unlike the Fellowship’s sponsorship, AIR was designed to support the state of Israel from a political context by promoting the alliance between the country and the United States. However, Yeley failed to qualify for the race.

2023 Rallye du Maroc: Jacquemain wins Rally3 for ART, Kurtaj scores championship

Cheikh Yves Jacquemain is a seven-time champion of the Senegal Cross-Country Championship who has dreamed of racing the Dakar Rally, and was poised to take part in the 2008 edition before it was cancelled. While the race no longer runs through his home country of Senegal, he was more than eager to showcase himself on the global stage when the World Rally-Raid Championship arrived in Morocco for the Rallye du Maroc.

Competing for the Africa Rallye Team, a programme run by Rallye du Maroc organiser ODC Event to promote domestic rally competitors, Jacquemain did not take long to impress as he won the Rally3 category in his W2RC début by nearly an hour on the field. Fellow ART rider Souleymane Addahri joined him on the overall podium in third.

Jacquemain captured the momentum first by winning the Prologue and Stage #1, and never relinquished the overall lead for the rest of the race. Addahri and Richárd Hodola scored a stage win each, but Jacquemain finished on the podium in all five legs while his margins of victory were significantly greater than theirs. Hodola also completed the podium lockout, but his runner-up to Jacquemain in the first stage was by over eighteen minutes while his Stage #4 win over Jacquemain came by just thirty-three seconds. Addahri’s Stage #2 victory was also by less than a minute on his ART team-mate.

Although not a win, the silver medal is still a strong finish for Hodola after placing sixth in the 2022 edition. He was the lone Rally3 competitor from 2022 to return to the class as those like winner Amine Echiguer and second-placed Guillaume Borne moved up to Rally2.

Ardit Kurtaj was the only other rider with a stage podium when he finished second to Jacquemain in Stage #3, though he was over an hour behind Addahri in the overall. He woke up with an upset stomach for the fourth day, forcing him to ride more conservatively and finishing fourth.

2023 Rallye du Maroc: Ronald Basso survives for T2 triumph

The production-based T2 is a bit of an oddity in the World Rally-Raid Championship. It only appeared at two races in 2023, is the only category without a championship at all, and has been virtually monopolised by Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body on the grounds of being the only outfit to consistently show up. Still, that does not mean the class is devoid of action; after all, a rally raid is difficult for any vehicle and perhaps doubly so for stock machinery.

For the second and final race at the Rallye du Maroc, Toyota Auto Body retained their Dakar Rally duo of Akira Miura and Ronald Basso. The former entered Morocco as the defending winner, while Basso hoped to build upon his maiden Dakar victory. Like at Dakar, both were the only entrants in T2, making the class yet another “mano a mano”.

Miura had the early advantage by winning the Prologue and first two stages, including beating Basso by over thirty-six minutes in Stage #2, though his Toyota Land Cruiser 300 GR was taking a beating of its own and lost power steering during the first leg. He suffered a tyre puncture just two kilometres from the finish in Stage #3, which Basso claimed. Stage #4 saw the closest battle as Miura held off Basso by just 3:22.

Despite his stage wins, Miura ultimately did not reach the finish after a mechanical issue in the drive system struck just seventy-five kilometres from the start.

“How we address this problem will depend on our work over the next two months, so we would like to thoroughly investigate the cause of the problem to prevent it from happening soon,” Miura said shortly after bowing out. “My team-mates are still competing so I hope they can finish without having the same problems.”

2023 Rallye du Maroc: Price wins in RallyGP but Benavides takes championship

Unless you’re NASCAR, a championship contender winning the final race of the season but not the title itself is a painful but not uncommon phenomenon.

Toby Price experienced this firsthand as he won the Rallye du Maroc overall but lost the World Rally-Raid Championship in RallyGP by just four points to Luciano Benavides. It is the closest margin for a W2RC class since its inception in 2022, a mark last held by last year’s T4 title coming down to six points and edging out the five-point 2023 T3 battle.

Price took the points lead after the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge only for Benavides to claim it two rounds later at the Desafío Ruta 40 due to a broken shock that relegated him to last in class. He entered Morocco trailing by ten points.

A runner-up finish in Stage #2 propelled Price up to second overall behind Ross Branch before overtaking him the next day due to a slow start for the latter. Unfortunately for him, Benavides won Stage #4 to creep onto the outright podium, and Price quickly realised the disaster in Argentina was going to “come back to haunt me.”

Going into the last day, Benavides simply needed to finish on the overall podium to clinch the championship regardless of Price’s result. Although Pablo Quintanilla, who was fourth, won winning the final stage, Branch crashed in the dunes and fell off the podium entirely which Benavides capitalised upon to finish second behind Price and ice the title.

2023 Rallye du Maroc: Yazeed Al-Rajhi completes Toyota T1 season sweep

If three Dakar Rallies and two World Rally-Raid Championships aren’t enough to convince people that the Toyota Hilux is the top rally raid vehicle today, how about the Hilux winning all five W2RC races in 2023?

Toyota had already clinched the manufacturer’s championship at the penultimate round in Argentina, but put the cherry atop their title at the Rallye du Maroc as Yazeed Al-Rajhi recorded his second win of 2023 after the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. He led a 1–2 finish for Overdrive Racing with Denis Krotov in tow, the latter scoring his best career W2RC finish.

Both of Al-Rajhi’s W2RC wins came on consistency as he failed to win any stages but the frontrunners dropped out. Al-Rajhi himself never finished worse than fifth across the five days.

Nasser Al-Attiyah only needed four points to secure the title when he led Al-Rajhi by fifty-one entering Morocco. He and his Hilux quickly achieved that by winning the first two stages, and he looked poised to claim his fourth victory in five races. The latter ended up falling apart in Stage #4 when one of the rear driveshafts broke, forcing him to drive in front-wheel-drive before the resulting strain led to the right front driveshaft giving way too. He bowed out of the rally altogether on the fifth and final leg with a crash just ten kilometres in. The same had occurred in Abu Dhabi when he won the first three stages only to crash out while Al-Rajhi took the win.

While certainly not an ideal end to the season and possibly his Toyota tenure as his free agency status remains in the air for 2024, Al-Attiyah still waltzed away with the title by twenty-four points on Al-Rajhi. Juan Cruz Yacopini finished fourth overall and third among W2RC competitors to secure a Toyota podium sweep of the final standings.

Chloe Grant Column: Navigating the 2023 F1 Academy Season and Gearing Up for a Debut at CoTA in Texas

My 2023 F1 Academy season comes to an end at Austin in Texas which supports the United States Formula 1 Grand Prix next month (20-22 Oct) and I’m flat out preparing for the final three races.

I’m very excited to be racing in America for the first time and obviously being on the same billing as the US Grand Prix at the Circuit of The Americas. It’s an incredible opportunity.

Since my last column, I raced at Paul Ricard – another totally new track for me like the entire F1 Academy season has been. It was my first event after my big accident and I was pleased with how I came through it.

Times in quali were really tight at Ricard and I was only 0.365secs away from pole. I diced for eighth place for much of Race 1 but had to be content with 10th at the chequered flag which was still a decent result.

Credit: Chloe Grant Racing

I missed out on another top-10 by less than a second in the second race but was especially happy with how I had driven in Race 2. My lap times were better and were consistently faster than the four cars that finished in front of me. I got up to ninth but was pushed wide causing me to lose momentum and places.

2024 Baja Cup schedules released

Cross-Country Bajas is no more. Say hello to the Baja Cup.

On Thursday, the World Motor Sport Council approved the 2024 schedules for the FIA World, European, and Middle East Baja Cups. The World Cup will be the longest at seven rounds long followed by Europe’s five and the Middle East’s four.

The series were formerly known as the Cups for Cross-Country Bajas before their names were simplified on Thursday. The change also applies to the terminology used for races as “Cross-Country Bajas” have been renamed to just “Bajas”. A Baja is a rally that takes place over four days with two days of competition over 350 kilometres in Selective Sections.

The 2024 World Baja Cup begins significantly later than in 2023, kicking off in Greece on 22–25 May with what used to be the Rally Greece Off-Road, which swaps championships with the Italian Baja by coming over from the European Cup. The Saudi Baja, which began the 2023 season in February, has been dropped.

Back on the European Baja Cup calendar, the Italian Baja will be the second race after the Baja TT Dehesa Extremadura. The rest of the schedule remains identical to 2023.

FIA rally raid categories, Bajas Cups renamed for 2024

The FIA has revised its dictionary for cross-country rally. On Thursday, the World Motor Sport Council approved a series of vernacular changes that will go into effect in 2024 including renaming the three Cups for Cross-Country Bajas, all five categories in Bajas and the World Rally-Raid Championship, and even basic event types.

The term “Cross-Country Baja”, which refers to a rally that takes place over four days with two for racing and a total Selective Section length of at least 350 kilometres, now has a more simplified name of “Baja”. As a result, the three Baja-focused championships have been respectively dubbed the World Baja Cup, European Baja Cup, and Middle East Baja Cup.

This change is designed to create “more clarity and substance”. Prior to the W2RC, FIA cross-country series had lengthy monikers such as its predecessor World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies and the similarly named World, European, and Middle East Cups for Cross-Country Bajas. For comparison, the FIM’s top Baja championship boasts the shorter title of FIM Bajas World Cup. Those in the industry including competitors also colloquially refer to events as a “Baja”.

Much like the aforementioned series rebrand, W2RC rounds have been renamed from “Cross-Country Rally” to “Rally-Raid”. Unlike Bajas, a rally raid is a week-long event with five days of competition and 1,200 km in distance. Longer rallies of two weeks and 2,500 km such as the season-opening Dakar Rally has tweaked their category from “Cross-Country Marathon Rally” to “Marathon Rally-Raid”.

The five classes have also dropped their formula-style numbering system in favour of actual vehicle descriptions. The top-level T1 category for prototype cars has been called “Ultimate”, while their production counterpart in T2 is now “Stock”. The FIA has not revealed names for subcategories like T1+ for upgraded T1 cars, the electric-based T1.U where the “U” stands for Ultimate, or T1.1 and T1.2 for 4×4 and 4×2 vehicles.

2024 World Rally-Raid Championship registration now open

With the 2023 World Rally-Raid Championship now wrapped up, competitors can begin applying for the 2024 season from Thursday, 19 October through Friday, 15 December at 12:00 Paris Time.

Signing up for the championship will make a team eligible to receive points in the driver’s, co-driver’s, and manufacturer’s standings, but they must register for each race individually. Championship registration covers the entire season for the FIA and RallyGP classes, while Rally2 and Quad riders may sign up for either a single race or the full calendar. Rally3, which only appeared at the final three rounds of 2023, is free so long as it is available.

The manufacturer’s title is open for T1 and RallyGP. Marques who apply for the championship are required to run at least four races to remain eligible or risk losing their points. BAIC ORV learned this the hard way in 2023 when they entered just three rounds and was third following their final start before being dropped to last with a goose egg in the points column.

Entry fees, which are paid for each vehicle, vary by category. The fees listed below do not include VAT:

ClassFee (Euros)
Rally2€2,500 (season), €600 (race)
Quad€2,500 (season), €600 (race)
Manufacturer (FIA)€55,000
Manufacturer (FIM)€22,000

The prices are slightly higher than in 2023. For this past season, T1 entrants were required to pay €15,000, while T3 and T4 fees were respectively €10,000 and €6,000. On two wheels, RallyGP riders paid €10,000 whereas Rally2 and Quad either coughed up €500 per race or €2,000 for the season. T1 manufacturers were on the hook for €40,000, and RallyGP and T4 had €20,000.