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Audi withdraws W2RC appeal, back on hook for fine

Team Audi Sport has opted not to further pursue their appeal of the €750,000 fine they received for skipping the rest of the World Rally-Raid Championship. They paid off €187,500 of the fine within forty-eight hours of withdrawing the appeal but still remain on the hook for the remaining €562,500.

Despite winning the season-opening Dakar Rally, Audi shut down their rally raid division weeks later because they did not have enough parts to run the next round in Abu Dhabi. The Audi RS Q e-tron E2, being the only electric vehicle in the top-level Ultimate class, uses special parts that only a niche pool of vendors supply, some of which necessitate a years-long process. The team was already planning to disband at the end of 2024 after contesting the full season to focus on Formula One, though technical partner Sven Quandt noted that Audi AG’s new CEO Gernot Döllner did not wish to continue the effort after the Dakar.

Although the team stresses their shuttering was circumstantial, they had already signed up for the full championship. In response, the FIA handed down the fine on 27 February, the same day as Stage #1 of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, with €562,500 suspended provided they do not skip anymore races. The fine was then frozen in its entirety when Audi announced their intent to appeal, only for the FIA International Court of Appeal to be notified of the withdrawal on 26 March.

FIA stewards formally announced Thursday, during Stage #2 of the BP Ultimate Rally-Raid, that the fine will now be enforced again. With Audi obviously not racing the event, which the stewards’ report mentioned, it is likely that the FIA will give them another fine and the same will continue for the remaining two W2RC races, the Desafío Ruta 40 and the Rallye du Maroc in October.

Teams that sign up for the manufacturer’s championship are required to enter all five rounds, which BAIC ORV learned the hard way in 2023 when they received a €10,000 fine and had all their points deducted after missing the last two events. Registering for the 2024 manufacturer’s points cost €55,000.

2024 BP Ultimate Rally-Raid: Loeb chases down Al-Attiyah in Stage 2

Sébastien Loeb versus Nasser Al-Attiyah is one of the most prominent rivalries in rally raid, even with the two now colleagues at Prodrive. They renewed their friendly feud on Thursday when Al-Attiyah narrowly beat Loeb for the BP Ultimate Rally-Raid Stage #2 win, but there’s a twist: Loeb is racing a Challenger car.

With Prodrive’s Bahrain Raid Xtreme not entering the rest of the season post-Dakar Rally as they prepare to transition to Dacia, Loeb elected to drop down from Ultimate to Challenger for Portugal, racing a Taurus T3 Max for Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team and BBR Motorsport. After finishing fourth in class in Stage #1, Loeb’s confidence and comfort in his new ride skyrocketed the next day as he set the second fastest time among all FIA entrants regardless of category and only thirty-five seconds behind Al-Attiyah’s Prodrive Hunter.

Had Loeb closed the half-minute gap, he would have been the first ever Challenger (formerly T3) driver to win an FIA stage outright under W2RC sanction. Even if not FIA-wide, he still claimed the Challenger win by over four minutes on Taurus ally Nicolás Cavigliasso and now leads the class overall by 3:54 over João Dias.

Al-Attiyah, who won the Prologue, spent most of the day chasing down Saood Variawa until the latter received a thirty-minute speeding penalty. The infraction added insult to injury for Toyota, whose Fall Guy duo of Stage #1 victor Guerlain Chicherit and Guillaume de Mévius were forced to retire with mechanical failures; Chicherit lost ten minutes while trying to cross a ford around a stranded bike rider then crashed into a tree stump. Fellow Ultimate driver Aliyyah Koloc retired when her REVO’s engine expired while trapped in mud.

João Ferreira finished third to secure the overall for the Portuguese Cross-Country Championship, which raced in tandem with the W2RC, while João Dias won in T3 and João Monteiro in T4. While the CPTT, which also consists of those racing in the National class, wrapped up their BP Ultimate Rally-Raid on Thursday, the W2RC will continue to Spain on Friday.

HIGHSPEED Etoile Racing formed, hopes to support women racers

As the premiere of the HIGHSPEED Étoile racing anime looms, the project will also bring its presence to real-life race tracks in 2024 in the form of HIGHSPEED Étoile Racing run by Platinum Factory Co., Ltd. The team hopes to develop and support female drivers, which will be reflected in their inaugural lineup of Kotomi Maeda and Ai Shimizu. Kohta Kawaai, the 2023 Super GT champion in the GT300 class, will serve as team director.

Development of the team began last fall before scouting drivers. Platinum Factory CEO Ryūtarō Nakagawa explained, “We not only want to create opportunities for women to play an active role, but we also want to create an environment where drivers can grow alongside the anime characters.”

Maeda and Shimizu will mainly compete in the all-women Kyojo Cup and co-ed Fuji Champion Race. Both series exclusively race Vita-01 cars at Fuji Speedway, mainly on the same weekend; they will begin their 2024 seasons together on 11/12 May, though the FCR is four rounds long while the Kyojo Cup spans six events. HSE Racing’s Vita-01 was revealed Tuesday, featuring protagonist Rin Rindoh and Kanata Asakawa on both sides of the livery. Fuji Speedway, albeit a futuristic rendition, is one of seven actual circuits that will appear in the show.

The team also plans to field electric cars in the All Japan EV-GP Series and All Japan Karting Championship‘s EV division. Their début will come at Tsukuba Circuit with the All Japan EV-GP Series on 27 April. The All Japan Karting Championship season begins at City Circuit Tokyo Bay on 2 June.

Maeda, who works at a car dealership, began kart racing when she was 21 years old. Shimizu was previously a track and field sprinter who became a truck driver.

2024 BP Ultimate Rally-Raid: Penalties wipe out Stage 1 bike podium

Bradley Cox was about to become one of the very rare instances of a Rally2 rider topping the bike overall when he set the fastest time in Wednesday’s opening stage of the BP Ultimate Rally-Raid. This was dashed when he received a twenty-minute penalty for leaving the neutralisation zone between the stage’s two Selective Sections too early.

The error dropped him to twenty-sixth among bikes and fifteenth in Rally2. He was not the only victim as eleven other riders made the same mistake including Adrien Van Beveren and Edgar Canet, who respectively finished second and fourth overall before penalties dropped them to fourteenth and sixteenth.

“I made an error leaving a transfer zone early and got smacked with a 20 min penalty,” wrote Cox. “Now all I can do [is] put my head down and try get some solid stages under my belt.”

Had the win stuck, Cox would have been the second Rally2 competitor to win a bike stage outright under World Rally-Raid Championship sanction after Michael Docherty won Stage #1 at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in February. Ironically, Docherty had also lost the overall stage victory in Stage #4 of the 2023 Desafío Ruta 40 though that was due to the stage’s starters—who raced in RallyGP—getting bonuses rather than self-inflicted wounds.

Others who left the transfer too soon and were docked time included Rally2’s Dwain Barnard, Paul Costes, Jorge Escobedo, Sergio Fernandez, and Adriá Pascuet; Rally3’s Rafic Eid, Francisco España, and John Medina; and Quad’s Alberto Prieto Ruiz.

2024 BP Ultimate Rally-Raid: Portuguese smash Prologue

With the BP Ultimate Rally-Raid marking the World Rally-Raid Championship‘s inaugural race in Portugal, those from the country were eager to showcase their skill in front of a global audience. Although Wednesday’s Prologue stage was only four kilometres long, they certainly got to set the tone early.

Portuguese drivers swept the Challenger podium as Luís Portela Morais led Miguel Barbosa and João Dias, while Gonçalo Guerreiro and João Monteiro finished 1–2 in SSV. Another top three run came in Rally3 led by Gonçalo Amaral, though the class was already filled with locals.

In Ultimate, Nasser Al-Attiyah made quick work as his Prodrive Hunter navigated it in three minutes and forty-one seconds, beating Lucas Moraes by six seconds. While the Prologue is relatively inconsequential for the overall as times from it do not count in the bigger picture for FIA categories, it is his second straight win in such a stage after Abu Dhabi and allows him to pick his starting position first. João Ferreira, the top Portuguese in Ultimate, finished fifth.

Al-Attiyah opted to start tenth for Stage #1 later on Wednesday while fellow Prodrive racer Marcos Baumgart will be the first out.

Tosha Schareina beat his Monster Energy Honda Rally Team colleague Adrien Van Beveren in RallyGP while Dakar Rally winner Manuel Andújar topped Quad ahead of Kamil Wiśniewski.

Anja Van Loon staying in truck for Dakar 2025, Erik Van Loon switching to Classic

Anja Van Loon and her husband Erik Van Loon will return to Saudi Arabia in 2025, albeit with some twists. While the former will be in the now-familiar confines of a truck contesting the Dakar Rally, the latter will make his début in the Dakar Classic as the driver of an Audi S1.

Erik raced the Dakar Rally from 2009 to 2023 with a best finish of fifth in 2015. His thirteenth and final start in 2023 began with a second-place finish in Stage #2 before retiring with a rollover five legs later. Although he continues to run rally raids today, the Dakar is too physically demanding for him to continue.

In contrast, the Dakar Classic is a navigation-based rally that uses vehicles built before 1999, meaning there is significantly less pressure and physical toll. His Audi S1 is being prepared by Coen Donkers, a fellow Dutchman who competes in historic rallies and the Goodwood Festival of Speed in Audi replica cars. Donkers and Audi Sport Veghel are also building Dakar Classic challengers for local drivers like Hans Stacey, the 2007 Dakar Rally Truck winner.

“The Dakar Classic is a regularity rally where the focus is not on speed but on the experience and driving through Saudi Arabia,” commented Erik. “Anja will be driving the truck again and I will be there anyway so I find it fun to participate. This way, I can still support her and also see some of the country. I will do this with an Audi S1, which I tested last week in France, and it’s just a lot of fun to drive. Coen Donkers is building the car and will build a few more for some other former Dakar participants from the area, so we have a nice group together.”

After finishing fourteenth in T3 (now Challenger) at her first Dakar Rally in 2023, Anja switched to an IVECO truck for the 2024 edition. She led an all-female team with Floor Maten and Marije van Ettekoven as co-driver and mechanic, the first truck crew composed of strictly women since 2004. Racing for Team de Rooy, she finished twelfth in class with a best stage finish of ninth twice in Stages #5 and #7.

Silk Way Rally planning rally raid in Turkmenistan

Six years after hosting its first international rally raid, Turkmenistan has partnered with the Silk Way Rally to organise another race scheduled for 9–15 September.

The International Silk Way Rally Project, represented by development director Sergey Tukmanov and deputy head Viktor Sokolov, met with State Committee for Physical Culture and Sports of Turkmenistan chairman Allaberdi Saparov in Ashgabat on Friday to discuss matters like “developing the route, ensuring the safety of participants, medical care, and organising communications during the race, among others.” The Silk Way Rally, the largest rally raid in Russia, concluded its inaugural edition in 2009 in Ashgabat.

Run by an authoritarian government, Turkmenistan is one of the most isolated and repressive countries in the world with elections widely denounced as unfair, restrictions on travel, heavy suppression of the media, and an extreme cult of personality surrounding its autocratic—and even eccentric—leaders. Visa rejection rates are high and tourism, which is heavily regulated, struggles despite historical landmarks like points on the Silk Road trade route, which the Silk Way Rally gets its name from. In spite of this, it is a major exporter of cheap natural gas in Eurasia and increased commercial profits during the late 2010s prompted President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow to begin promoting the country for global sporting events, which culminated in Turkmenistan hosting the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in 2017 followed by the Amul–Hazar International Rally (also known as the Turkmen Desert Race) in September 2018.

Overseen by Dakar Rally great and Africa Eco Race co-creator Jean-Louis Schlesser, the rally began in Türkmenabat (formerly known as Amul) and ended in Avaza, a borough of Türkmenbaşy near the town of Hazar. Berdimuhamedow briefly drove in the Prologue stage in a Mini All4 Racing from X-raid Team before his personal chauffeur Hojaguly Annamammedov took over the Mini for the rest of the rally and finished third in the T1 class; the president rewarded him with a Mercedes E200 Coupe. Two-time Dakar champion Nani Roma won the overall.

Although the Amul–Hazar was included on the 2019 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies (predecessor to the current World Rally-Raid Championship) while Schlesser was contracted through 2020, it was cancelled before a second race could be held due to “incompatibility between the FIA requirements and Turkmenistan.”

ASO pulls plug on Quads for 2025 Dakar Rally

The FIM categories will only have two-wheelers at the 2025 Dakar Rally. Amidst rumours of the Quad category being axed due to a lack of manufacturer support, Amaury Sport Organisation head and race director David Castéra confirmed the news on Tuesday shortly before the BP Ultimate Rally-Raid. The class will still appear at the other World Rally-Raid Championship rounds.

“In the Dakar, we have decided to stop the Quad category next year in ’25 because we are going to focus more on bikes,” Castéra explained to Cross-Country Rally News. “We have many, many demands from competitors and we want to focus more on bikes. We have few quads now, there is no manufacturer to support all the competitors, so that’s why we are going to stop it for the moment.”

Daniel Giroud was the first person to complete the Paris–Dakar Rally on a quad in 1997 but it did not become its own class until 2009, the race’s inaugural edition in South America. Quads proved to be extremely popular in the region with as many as forty-nine riders in 2018, and its South American fan favourite status was cemented with all but two class winners hailing from the continent during the race’s stint there.

However, OEM backing began to decrease at the turn of the decade as they invested more into side-by-side vehicles, leading to rapid growth in the Challenger and SSV categories. Most Quad riders race a Yamaha Raptor with little, if any, factory assistance; CFMOTO Thunder Racing Team is the only full works programme in the class today.

The 2023 season was emblematic of the category’s struggles to even draw a grid. After sixteen riders raced the Dakar Rally and six at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, numbers bottomed out to a dismal two at the Sonora Rally. Things drastically flipped when the championship returned to South America for the Desafío Ruta 40 as fourteen riders were entered before dropping to ten at the season-ending Rallye du Maroc.

Andreas Holzl: Budget, media factor into KTM’s W2RC absence

Rally raid bike fans have surely been disappointed at the lack of entries in the premier RallyGP category during the first half of the 2024 World Rally-Raid Championship as many teams including Red Bull KTM Factory Racing opt not to run the full calendar like they used to. In an interview with SPEEDWEEK on 15 March, KTM AG rally general manager Andreas Hölzl explained the team’s absence stems from a combination of budget and poor media exposure, which can go hand in hand for racing since too few of the latter means low return on investment and therefore little reason to continue their support.

KTM is one of the top bike marques in the discipline, having recently won the Dakar with Kevin Benavides in 2023 and nineteen in total. Toby Price went on to finish runner-up in the 2023 W2RC by just nine points, narrowly missing out on his second world rally title after claiming the 2018 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship. Despite their successes, KTM and rivals GasGas and defending champion Husqvarna, all of which are owned by Pierer Mobility Group, did not register for the 2024 championship, rendering their riders ineligible to earn points at Dakar. None of the three have returned to the series for the two rounds since.

Hölzl, who took over as KTM rally director from Norbert Stadlbauer in September 2023, explained to SPEEDWEEK that the team’s main focus remains on Dakar while other rounds are not worth pursuing at the moment. This has been especially apparent as Pierer undergoes a series of reshuffling and budget cuts.

“This decision (to not race for points) was already made in fall 2023,” Hölzl began. “The championship itself works pretty well, you have to admit, but the main race is still the Dakar. It’s the most famous, interesting, and prestigious race, and that’s what we focus on. All of this costs a lot of money, and in times like these, it must be well invested. The financial aspect is one thing because you also have to pay a fee to the promoter, and media presence is also not as we would like it yet.”

He also pointed to safety regulations at the other W2RC rounds not being as robust as the Dakar. Although KTM’s Benavides and Matthias Walkner suffered injuries in testing crashes in 2023, he felt the safety standards in races are too much of a risk.

2024 BP Ultimate Rally-Raid: Sponsor obligations sideline Ricky Brabec

Monster Energy Honda Rally Team will be a man short when they return to the World Rally-Raid Championship for this week’s BP Ultimate Rally-Raid in Portugal as Ricky Brabec has to stay in America to support his sponsors.

“While we would have loved to have him present, Ricky’s absence is due to contractual commitments to the team sponsors, who require him for an event in the United States on these dates,” reads a team statement. “We understand and respect his obligations.”

Brabec won the season-opening Dakar Rally in January, the second time he triumphed at the legendary event, but he and the team opted to skip the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge the following month as part of a planned breather. In the meantime, he returned to the U.S. to enter the Mint 400, where he and Honda team-mate Skyler Howes won on four wheels in the Limited Race‘s UTV Pro Normally Aspirated class. The following day, Brabec teamed up with Preston Campbell to win the Mint’s Motorcycle Race.

Most teams in the premier RallyGP class did not enter Abu Dhabi, where only Hero MotoSports took part. As a result, Brabec did not fall too far in the standings and is currently second behind Ross Branch by twelve points, though that deficit will increase due to his absence in Portugal.

Honda will still be well represented even with their Dakar winner missing as Howes is joined by Adrien Van Beveren, Pablo Quintanilla, and Tosha Schareina. The team will contend with Branch and Sebastian Bühler of Hero, who has a thirteen-point edge in the manufacturer’s championship, while non-points riders António Maio and Lorenzo Santolino make it eight RallyGP riders total for the race.

Charity rally raid organiser Jean-Jacques Rey passes

Jean-Jacques Rey, founder of the Désertours travel agency and the mastermind behind rallies like the 4L Trophy and Trophée Roses des Sables, passed away Wednesday at the age of 79.

A motorcycle enthusiast, he got into rally raids when he was 25 years old after competing mainly in enduro. He attempted races such as the Tunisia Rally and the Rallye des Pharaons before entering the 1986 Paris–Dakar Rally in a Mitsubishi Pajero. He ran the Dakar three more times after that.

Inspired by his efforts, he and Désertours, which he opened in 1986, organised the Biarritz–Dakar in 1990 that ran from France through Morocco before finishing Senegal.

In 1997, Rey launched the 4L Trophy. Intended for drivers under the age of thirty, the rally pits them in Renault 4 cars through Morocco with school supplies that are then donated to schoolchildren in the country. After only four teams entered the inaugural race, the rally now sees nearly 1,500 entries each year while 1,150 crews raced the most recent edition in February. Rey’s daughter Géraldine currently oversees the event.

Rey also created the Trophée Roses des Sables, an all-women’s rally raid in Morocco that began in 2001. The 2024 edition will take place on 15–27 October.

SEASON PREVIEW: 2024 British Rallycross Championship

The 2024 5 Nations British Rallycross Championship starts this weekend at the birthplace of the sport, Lydden Hill. 14 Supercars are entered for the double header event that will kick off a condensed calendar. 

Series organisers have listened to feedback that 2 overseas trips per year was too burdensome. To combat this the championship will host 6 weekends of competition with each class racing 5 times. For the Supercar class this means 3 meetings at Lydden Hill with an event at Mondello Park and Pembrey each. In a further bid to draw in larger entries at every round, dropped scores will be removed. This will prevent drivers from being able to freely skip an event without consequence. 

After Cooper Tires ceased production at their UK plant they were unable to continue supplying the paddock. MRF have been brought in as part of a multi-year deal. With limited testing for the majority of entries it remains to be seen who can get to grips with the new rubber. 

Supercar Calendar

1 & 230 March/1 AprilLydden Hill
3 & 425/26 MayMondello Park
5 & 620/21 JulyLydden Hill
7 & 85/6 OctoberPembrey
9 & 102/3 NovemberLydden Hill


2024 Morocco Desert Challenge focused on “fun, safety, and 200% adrenaline”

The Morocco Desert Challenge returns for a ninth edition from 11 to 20 April, and organisers hope it will be both an exciting and safe adventure following tragic events that overshadowed the 2023 race.

After co-driver Laurent Lichtleuchter and rider Bram van der Wouden died during the 2023 MDC, the former in a fiery accident when his side-by-side was hit by another car and the latter from heat stroke, the 2024 edition has increased measures to ensure competitor safety. All registrants are required to pass a cardiac evaluation within the past year, while riders must wear an airbag vest and undergo medical tests while refuelling during each stage. The Malle Moto class for riders competing without teams, which van der Wouden was in, has been dropped. To mitigate the risk of another crash like Lichtleuchter’s, side-by-side vehicles are now limited to a top speed of 135 km/h.

Although the entry list has been capped at 200 from the usual 300, the race still expects to see roughly 850 to 900 people in the bivouac. Race days will start earlier than usual at 7 AM, which gives teams more time to work on their vehicles in the evening and for rally officials to check on the course.

To reflect these new policies, MDC general director Gert Duson told The Checkered Flag that the race’s goals for 2024 are to promote “fun, safety, and 200% adrenaline.”

155 teams across six categories are signed up, with fifty-three SSVs leading the fray ahead of forty-four cars, thirty-five bikes, and nine trucks. The other sixteen are in the non-competitive Raid classes, which run on an adjacent route from the Rally side.

Hans Stacey eyeing Dakar return in 2025

After being one of the top Truck racers at the Dakar Rally during the 2000s and 2010s, Hans Stacey is interested in heading back in a car. The Dutchman spent Thursday in southern France, where he tested an Audi Quattro prepared by Audi Sport Veghel to hopefully compete in the 2025 Dakar Classic.

“The first shakedown of my Dakar Audi Quattro in South France for Dakar 2025 went well,” wrote Stacey. “Of course, we still have some things to adjust and improve.”

In 2007, Stacey won the final Dakar Rally to run along the original Europe to Senegal route in the Truck category, scoring five stage wins in a TGA 18.531BB. He made his début in a DAF in 2004 before switching to MAN the following year, and finished second in the 2006 edition. Stacey remains the latest Dakar Truck champion who did not race for KAMAZ or IVECO as of 2024.

The 2008 Dakar was cancelled and a replacement event dubbed the Central Europe Rally took its place for that year, where he won six stages en route to another Truck overall victory. After taking two years off, he returned to the race in an IVECO in 2012 and finished second. His most recent Dakar was a ninth-place effort in 2017.

Stacey hoped to race in 2022 with Team de Rooy, but was replaced by Victor Versteijnen for medical reasons.

Hansen World RX Team Confirm All-Electric Line-Up

One of rallycross’s most successful teams has revealed their hand ahead of the 2024 FIA World Rallycross Championship.

Building on a competitive season in 2023, Hansen World RX Team remains unchanged heading into the new year. 2019 champion Timmy Hansen will drive one of the two Peugeot 208 RX1e cars alongside his brother, 2016 European rallycross champion Kevin Hansen.

Timmy and Kevin Hansen. Credit: Rallycross Promoter GmbH / Red Bull Content Pool

In 2024, these electric cars will face a new adversary, with the “Battle of Technologies” concept appearing for the first time. Electric rallycross cars will line up on the grid alongside their sustainably fuelled internal combustion engine counterparts.

The decision to stay with all-electric machinery is definitely unsurprising, with both brothers having been huge advocates for electric rallycross cars since their introduction. Speaking to The Checkered Flag in July 2023, Timmy Hansen had some musings about how to make electric rallycross more popular.

“Maybe the mistake has been not putting these cars side by side,” he suggested. “If people would have seen how fast these cars are, you can cheer for anybody out on track but the electric cars would win nine out of ten races, mainly because we would be miles out ahead right from the start. People haven’t seen how fast the car is in a side by side comparison, and I think, if they had seen it, the attitude would have been very different.”