Al-Rajhi and Gottschalk seal dramatic victory

Yazeed Al-Rajhi

That first W2RC win of the season for Al-Rajhi and Overdrive Racing and second place for the defending champion means that Al-Attiyah has a 25-point cushion over the Saudi before the final round in October. Toyota Gazoo Racing extends its advantage in the W2RC Manufacturers’ Championship.

Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi and co-driver Timo Gottschalk became embroiled in a thrilling final stage battle with Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and his co-driver Edouard Boulanger for overall honours at Argentina’s Desafío Ruta 40.

A mere one second separated the two crews after 70km of the final stage but the Saudi eventually prevailed by just 40 seconds after five gruelling gravel stages through the Córdoba, San Juan and La Rioja provinces of north and western Argentina to seal a stunning victory on the fourth round of the FIA World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC).

That first W2RC win of the season for Al-Rajhi and Overdrive Racing and second place for the defending champion means that Al-Attiyah has a 25-point cushion over the Saudi before the final round in October. Toyota Gazoo Racing extends its advantage in the W2RC Manufacturers’ Championship.

Al-Rajhi said: “We drove with determination, giving it our all, until we reached the halfway point and saw that Nasser was 27 seconds ahead. This made me realise we had lost the lead. We pushed to the limit. I swear, we pushed hard in the second half of the stage to make up the 27 seconds we lost and we even added some extra time.

“Between the mountains, we took risks, driving at 150km/h through dangerous terrain. Before reaching the finish line, I told Timo that no matter our result in this rally, we had done everything we could. We were the winners. I’ve never been as exhausted in my life as I was here, especially in this stage because I was driving fast, despite the risks.”

Denis Krotov and Konstantin Zhiltsov brought the second of the Overdrive Racing Toyotas to the finish in Córdoba in fourth position.

Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Lucas Moraes and Armand Monleón started the opening stage in 28th after shedding a right-rear wheel near the start of the Prologue. The Brazilian surged through the field to clock the third quickest time on the first day and was then fastest overall in SS2 to consolidate third. But suspension issues on stage four cost him a potential podium finish but he climbed two positions on the final stage and reached the finish in fifth to hold third in the W2RC Drivers’ Championship.

American Seth Quintero teamed up with Dennis Zenz but got stuck in a ditch on stage one trying to overtake a rival and dropped 25 minutes. The Toyota Gazoo Racing driver then stopped twice with ongoing mechanical issues on stage four and slipped back to finish in 11th overall.

Quintero said: “This was a good race for us in Argentina. Unfortunately, we had some issues with the car’s dampers that took us out of fighting for the win. Apart from this issue, I am feeling as fast as ever.”

Juan Cruz Yacopini had finished on the podium on his home event in 2023 but the Argentine rolled his Toyota after 144km of stage two and then damaged his car still further after another accident on the fourth stage. Further examinations of the condition of the car’s roll cage confirmed that there was damage and FIA officials removed him and co-driver Daniel Oliveras from the start list for stage four on safety grounds.

Action commenced with a 16.25km Prologue stage that would not count towards the overall classification but would enable the leading drivers to choose their starting position for the opening selective section that was made up of two parts of 147.18km and 202.16km. The Prologue ran along a virtually identical track to the former WRC Rally of Argentina stage – El-Condor-Copina – and crews experienced foggy conditions across the famous eerie moonscapes in the hills. 

Al-Attiyah clocked the quickest time to choose the most favourable starting position, while Al-Rajhi, Yacopini and Quintero came home in second, sixth and ninth. Krotov was down in 19th but Moraes incurred a maximum time penalty of 45 minutes and was at the rear of the FIA field in 28th after his Hilux shed the rear-right wheel near the start of the Prologue stage.

Al-Rajhi became embroiled in a gripping duel with Al-Attiyah for supremacy on the opening foggy and mountainous stage and the Saudi beat his rival by 2min 20sec to grab the lead. Despite starting at the rear of the field, Moraes stormed through the back markers and overcame dust issues to move into third place. Yacopini finished fourth, Krotov was ninth and Quintero came home in 12th after getting stuck in a ditch for 25 minutes trying to overtake a rival.

Moraes said: “We were passing so many guys and there was a lot of dust, so there were times when we had to be patient. I was a little surprised we finished with the third place, but also very happy.”

Stage two entered the neighbouring province of San Juan and competitive action was split into two sections of 231.27km and 190.53km to the east of the Andes. Yacopini overturned his Hilux after 144km and eventually finished the stage down in 14th position, lost 34 minutes and slipped to ninth overall. 

Moraes claimed the stage win from Al-Rajhi by 57 seconds with Al-Attiyah finishing third after the leading duo in the overall rankings also picked up minor speeding penalties. The outcome of the day’s action meant that Al-Rajhi took a 3min 19sec lead into the third loop stage around San Juan. Moraes consolidated third overall, Krotov was sixth and Quintero held seventh.

The third stage wound its way through remote terrain around the San Juan bivouac and was split into three timed sections of 141.93km, 31.42km and 145km by a neutralisation and a transfer zone. Quintero bounced back strongly to beat Al-Attiyah to his second career stage win in the Ultimate class by 69 seconds, although third place was sufficient for Al-Rajhi to maintain a lead of 2min 21sec to take into the fourth stage to La Rioja.

Moraes, Krotov and Yacopini came home in fourth, sixth and 11th and held third, seventh and 10th in the general classification. But Yacopini had damaged his Toyota during the stage and retired and further examinations of the condition of the car’s roll cage confirmed that there had been some damage and FIA officials removed him from the start list for stage four on safety grounds.

The fourth stage into La Rioja contained the only sand dunes of the event in a tricky competitive route that was split into two sections of 175.55km and 125.81km by a transfer zone.

Al-Rajhi ceded the stage win to his rival Al-Attiyah but a one-minute time penalty for the Qatari ensured that the Saudi took a slender lead of just 13 seconds into the final stage back to Córdoba. More importantly, it meant that Al-Attiyah had to open the road. Krotov came home in sixth, but both Moraes and Quintero stopped with respective suspension and other mechanical issues and the time losses pushed the two South American drivers down to seventh and 12th overall. Krotov climbed to fourth.

The final stage ran for 218km between La Rioja and Córdoba. Al-Rajhi and Al-Attiyah were tied after 37km with the Saudi retaining a 13-second lead but Al-Attiyah moved into a virtual rally lead of just one second after 70km and increased that to 13 seconds after 117km. Al-Rajhi reduced the gap to just nine seconds at the 143km checkpoint and, dramatically, snatched a virtual three-second lead after 175km. He pressed on strongly over the final kilometres to seal a dramatic victory by just 40 seconds and also bonus points for the stage win.

Action in the FIA World Rally-Raid Championship reaches its conclusion in Morocco in October.  

2024 Desafío Ruta 40 – final result (top 20):

  1. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Toyota Hilux Overdrive    17hr 38min 21sec
  2. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Edouard Boulanger (FRA) Prodrive Hunter                  17hr 39min 01sec
  3. Sebastian Halpern (ARG)/Bernardo Graue (ARG) Mini Cooper Works Rally Plus               18hr 24min 37sec
  4. Denis Krotov (KGZ)/Konstantin Zhiltsov (ISR) Toyota Hilux Overdrive     18hr 40min 50sec
  5. Lucas Moraes (BRA)/Armand Monleón (ESP) Toyota GR DKR Hilux                              18hr 51min 24sec               
  6. Rokas Baciuška (LTU)/Sébastien Delaunay (FRA) Can-Am Maverick X3                        18hr 54min 59sec
  7. Nicolas Cavigliasso (ARG)/Valeria Pertegarini (ARG) Taurus T3 Max                                          19hr 03min 48sec
  8. Dania Akeel (SAU)/Stéphane Duplé (FRA) Taurus T3 Max                                           19hr 16min 43sec
  9. Marcelo Gastaldi (BRA)/Carlos Sachs (BRA) Taurus T3 Max                             19hr 16min 53sec
  10. Cristian Baumgart (BRA)/Gustavo Gugelmin (BRA) Prodrive Hunter                                19hr 50min 07sec
  11. Seth Quintero (USA)/Dennis Zenz (DEU) Toyota GR DKR Hilux                       20hr 03min 03sec
  12. Hernan Garces (CHL)/Juan Pablo Latrach (CHL) Can-Am Maverick X3                        20hr 11min 58sec*
  13. Ricardo Ramilo (ESP)/Fausto Mota (PRT) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR               20hr 35min 43sec
  14. Lucas Del Rio (CHL)/Bruno Jacomy (ARG) Can-Am Maverick X3                                         20hr 38min 55sec*
  15. Sebastian Guayasamin (ECU)/Fernando Acosta (ARG) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR          20hr 47min 45sec
  16. Rebecca Busi (ITA)/Sergio Lafuente (URY) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR               20hr 47min 50sec
  17. Claude Fournier (FRA)/Serge Gounon (FRA) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR               22hr 53min 12sec
  18. Nadia Lafuente (URY)/Maria Uribe (COL) Can-Am Maverick X3                                         23hr 49min 51sec*
  19. Juan Carlos Cerda (CHL)/ Álvaro León (CHL) Can-Am Maverick X3                                         37hr 44min 46sec*
  20. Oscar Santos (PRY)/Mirna Periera (PRY) Can-Am Maverick X3                                         39hr 47min 11sec*

Juan Cruz Yacopini (ARG)/Daniel Oliveras (ESP) Toyota Hilux Overdrive               RETIRED – SS4