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Friday, February 23, 2024

The main contenders for victory in 2024

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The 2024 Dakar Rally would be the fifth successive occasion to happen completely in Saudi Arabia, however organiser ASO has laid out a route that shall be vastly totally different to earlier years.

One of many greatest highlights of this 12 months’s problem is a two-day ‘chrono stage’, the place opponents could have till 4pm to cowl as a lot floor as doable earlier than halting on the subsequent bivouac they arrive throughout. They’ll head out once more the next morning at 7am with a purpose to be the primary to achieve the end line, masking a aggressive distance of almost 600km within the course of. So as to add to the problem, no help from groups shall be allowed in a single day as per ‘marathon stage’ guidelines, that means drivers should fend for themselves in case of any technical drama.

However maybe of even greater curiosity is five-time winner Nasser Al-Attiyah’s defection to Prodrive after a prolonged stint at Toyota. Al-Attiyah has at all times been a well known amount in cross-country rallying and the success he has loved in Dakar for the reason that rally moved to Saudi Arabia in 2020 has elevated him among the many most profitable drivers ever on this self-discipline. His transfer might effectively dictate the outcomes of Toyota and Prodrive this 12 months, as effectively these of rival entrants.

We have a look at the prospects of all main producers competing within the forty fifth version of the world’s hottest rally-raid.

Prodrive

Photograph by: Prodrive

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Nasser Al-Attiyah, Prodrive

Prodrive has proven all of the components to be a critical challenger in the previous few years and 2024 marks its greatest likelihood to lastly bag that elusive victory with the Hunter T1+. With Al-Attiyah now main its assault, Prodrive can declare to have a line-up that’s on par with Audi’s, besides it received’t should cope with an excessively difficult hybrid system.

Al-Attiyah has already accomplished two occasions within the Hunter buggy and, provided that he has received Dakar with three totally different producers, one can depend on the Qatari driver to make a clean adaptation from the vastly totally different Hilux pick-up he drove throughout his time at Toyota.

Finishing Al-Attiyah’s efforts can be nine-time World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb, who continues his seek for a maiden victory in Dakar after seven unsuccessful makes an attempt. In 2023, Loeb pulled off an unbelievable restoration from an early setback as he received a file six consecutive levels throughout the center of the occasion to complete behind Al-Attiyah. With fewer punctures and improved total reliability, Loeb needs to be a critical contender for victory this 12 months as he makes his last look with Bahrain Raid Xtreme earlier than becoming a member of Dacia in 2025 together with Al-Attiyah.

One other 5 Prodrive-built Hunters will contest this 12 months’s occasion below totally different banners, though French driver Guerlain Chicherit – who received two levels final 12 months – won’t be a part of the staff’s line-up this 12 months.

Toyota

Toyota Gazoo Racing DKR Hilux EVO T1U

Photograph by: Toyota

Toyota Gazoo Racing DKR Hilux EVO T1U

Whereas Toyota will lack star energy in 2024 following the departure of Al-Attiyah, it could be fallacious to low cost it from the battle, particularly when you think about that it’s increasing its presence to 5 manufacturing unit automobiles.

Main the cost shall be 2009 winner Giniel de Villiers, the one member of Toyota’s 2023 line-up that has been retained by the Japanese producer. The South African has completed inside the highest 5 in any respect however two events since he joined Toyota again in 2012 – and this 12 months gives him an opportunity to emerge out of Al-Attiyah’s shadows and repeat the form of success he loved at Volkswagen within the late noughties and early 2010s.

De Villiers shall be joined at Toyota by Lucas Moraes, who shocked everybody on his debut in 2023 as he completed third behind Al-Attiyah and Loeb whereas aboard an Overdrive-run Hilux. Given how spectacular he was in a buyer entry, Moraes would positively be one to be careful for as he secures a well-earned manufacturing unit promotion.

Seth Quintero, who received the T3 class within the World Rally-Raid Championship final 12 months, will step as much as the highest class this 12 months, whereas Man Botterill and Saood Variawa will make their first-ever begins in Dakar. Variawa will solely be 18 years {old} when he traces up on the beginning line at Al-’Ula this Friday, making him one of many youngest works drivers within the rally-raid’s historical past.

Toyota will contest this 12 months’s Dakar with an upgraded model of the confirmed Hilux pick-up. Other than the automotive being 100mm wider than its predecessor, it options an up to date suspension system and a brand new cooling bundle, with the air-con system being relocated for extra effectivity. 

Audi

Audi RS Q e-tron

Photograph by: Audi Communications Motorsport

Audi RS Q e-tron

Audi will proceed with the identical driver line-up for a 3rd 12 months in succession because it goals to bounce again from the frustration of 2023 and mount a bona fide assault on the general win. This could come as no shock to anybody, as Stephane Peterhansel, Carlos Sainz Sr and Mattias Ekstrom are all confirmed abilities, every with a powerful file of their very own. 

Peterhansel, after all, is essentially the most profitable competitor within the historical past of Dakar, whereas four-time winner Sainz Sr has proven no indicators of slowing down since coming into his 60s. Ekstrom, in the meantime, has transferred his pace from circuit racing and rallycross to this self-discipline and was Audi’s lone remaining finisher in 2023 after Peterhansel and Sainz retired from the rally as a consequence of totally different causes. 

Collectively, the trio ought to all be capable of problem for victory, offered the Audi RS Q e-tron proves fast and dependable in equal measure. 

For its half, Audi has gone to nice lengths to revamp the automotive after an underwhelming end in 2023. This 12 months, after all, could possibly be Audi’s last foray into Dakar if the German producer decides to tug the plug on its final remaining manufacturing unit programme with a purpose to give attention to its upcoming System 1 challenge with Sauber in 2026.

As a part of the overhaul, nearly all elements of the automotive have been reviewed, from the software program to the chassis. For starters, the springs and shock absorbers have been up to date to enhance the steadiness, whereas the design modifications have additionally been made to scale back the possibilities of stones getting caught between the struts, brake calipers and wheels. A big weight trimming train was additionally undertaken, bringing the automotive nearer to the two,100kg minimal restrict.

Ford 

M-Sport NWM Ford Ranger T1+

Photograph by: M-Sport

M-Sport NWM Ford Ranger T1+

Ford will enter the Dakar Rally as a manufacturing unit this 12 months to tackle current entrants Prodrive, Toyota and Audi. 

2024 will solely be an exploratory effort for the American marque, because it enters the sphere with an up to date model of the Ranger constructed by South Africa-based Neil Woolridge Motorsport. It received’t be till subsequent 12 months that Ford Efficiency builds an all-new, Dakar-spec Ranger, along with NWM and M-Sport.

However that doesn’t imply one shouldn’t take discover of Ford’s efforts, particularly because the very involvement of the American producer and its WRC associate M-Sport might threaten the present order.

Ford has additionally signed 2014 winner Nani Roma to guide the programme, with South African Gareth Woolridge driving the opposite works Ranger. Martin Prokop, who secured a stable sixth-place end final 12 months in a Ford Raptor, may even be driving a customer-entered Ranger on this 12 months’s occasion.

Different entrants

#203 X-Raid Mini JCW Team Mini: Jakub Przygonski, Armand Monleon

Photograph by: Pink Bull Content material Pool

#203 X-Raid Mini JCW Group Mini: Jakub Przygonski, Armand Monleon

Other than the large 4 talked about above, one can anticipate a number of different groups to knock on the door of a high 10 end. X-raid Mini, as soon as an enormous of the Dakar Rally, shall be again with three automobiles for one-time European Rally champion Krzysztof Hołowczyc, Lithuanian driver Vaidotas Zala and 19-year-old Pau Navarro.

Brian Baragwanath and Mathieu Serradori have commonly blended among the many leaders with the Century Racing Group and the duo will once more be eager to pounce on any alternative afforded by the frontrunners. 

Two-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Romain Dumas may even be one to be careful for as he returns with Rise up Racing, driving the identical Hilux T1+ because the manufacturing unit staff. 

The potent Overdrive outfit has additionally made one of the best of Toyota equipment lately and it might as soon as once more be a contender for the odd stage wins, particularly with house favorite Yazeed Al-Rajhi



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