Andalucía Rally: A dream season for Al-Attiyah and Sunderland

T1: Al-Attiyah denies Loeb his tenth title
Nasser Al-Attiyah (Toyota Gazoo Racing) remains the king of rally raids. The Qatari driver, a five-time winner of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, added a new title to his resume with his first FIA World Rally-Raid Championship. Although his triumph in the 2022 Dakar should have made him the obvious favourite, a stellar Sébastien Loeb (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) landed a massive haul of bonus points for stage wins and dragged himself to within one point of Al-Attiyah following the biggest event of the season. A crash in the opening stage of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge sent the Qatari’s campaign into a tailspin, but he recovered by taking a leaf out of Loeb’s book and racking up one stage win after another. After the summer, Al-Attiyah’s podium finish in the Rallye du Maroc and Loeb’s debacle put the former on course to win the W2RC. The Toyota driver sealed the deal with second place overall in the Andalucía Rally, good enough for the World Championship title.

Sébastien Loeb went toe to toe with the Toyota Gazoo Racing leader, but his BRX Hunter let him down in the hunt for that coveted tenth World Championship. However, he ended the season on a high note with a sensational victory in the Andalucía Rally.

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T3: “Chaleco” topples Cristina Gutiérrez
A string of two victories in the Dakar and the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge made Francisco “Chaleco” López (Can-Am Factory South Racing) the odds-on favourite to win the W2RC even before the summer, but with opponents of the calibre of the 2022 World Cup winner, Cristina Gutiérrez (Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team), and Seth Quintero (Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA), he could ill afford to rest on his laurels. The Chilean delivered another brilliant performance with second place in the Rallye du Maroc and clambered onto the podium again in the Andalucía Rally, where he built up an unassailable lead with one day to go.

T4: Baciuška earns the title in a grim slugfest
Rokas Baciuška (South Racing Can-Am) only got into rally raids a year ago, but he has already got a taste of glory. At the tender age of 22, he prevailed in a no-holds-barred contest with much more experienced competitors: Marek Goczał (Cobant-Energylandia Rally Team) and Austin Jones (Can-Am Factory South Racing). The showdown went down to the wire. Left with no choice but to go flat out in Andalusia to get their hands on the crown, Jones and Goczał crashed out of contention.
In contrast, the Lithuanian prodigy (who has a remarkable background in kart racing and rallycross) kept his cool and held up well under pressure in the spectacular finale, with just two points separating the three men going into the Andalucía Rally. Baciuškaproved himself worthy of the World Championship with three second-place finishes (2022 Dakar, Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and Andalucía Rally) and a victory.

T5: Kees Koolen first on the throne
The Dutchman Kees Koolen (Project 2030) had the honour of becoming the first W2RC champion of the year, a feat he achieved after the Rallye du Maroc, the last round of the season for the trucks (T5). His consistency allowed him to outlast Martin Macík(MM Technology), who hit the ground running with victory in the Dakar but saw his hopes go up in smoke due to a mechanical in Abu Dhabi. Koolen, the runner-up in Saudi Arabia, pounced on the opportunity to win the Desert Challenge and finished the job with second place in Morocco after the summer.

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Motorbikes — Rally GP: Consistency carries the day for Sunderland
Sam Sunderland (GasGas Factory Racing) has been the undisputed master of the Rally GP category since day one. A brace of victories in the Dakar and the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge put him in the pole position to take the W2RC. Following the summer hiatus due to the Andalucía Rally date change, the Brit soldiered through the Rallye du Maroc with a sore wrist. He gritted his teeth to finish fifth and remain in control ahead of the Spanish leg. An injured Pablo Quintanilla (Monster Energy Honda) was forced to sit out the race in Andalusia, enabling Sunderland to approach the rally with caution. Sunderland finished the W2RC with 85 points in the bag, 26 more than Ricky Brabec and 27 more than Adrien Van Beveren, (both Monster Energy Honda), illustrating his hegemony throughout the season.

Motorbikes — Rally 2 & quads: Giroud mirrors Klein
Mason Klein (BAS World KTM Racing Team) was probably the most dominant champion, his hunger for success undiminished in the Andalucía Rally despite already being mathematically assured of the W2RC title. His rivals, Romain Dumontier (Team Dumontier Racing) and Bradley Cox (BAS World KTM Racing Team), were left to fight for the scraps, with the Frenchman ultimately emerging as the best of the rest. Pretty much the same can be said of the new quad champion, Alexandre Giroud (Yamaha-SMX-Drag’on). In January, he pulled off the feat of a lifetime by winning the Dakar. After skipping the Abu Dhabi leg, in the Rallye du Maroc he was knocked out of contention for the race by a mechanical, yet he still finished first among the W2RC riders. His victory in the Andalucía Rally was but the coup de grâce.

Rally 3: Amine Echiguer — Rally raid is coming home
Amine Echiguer (Team Maroc ART) conquered the FIM Rally 3 title in a fitting tribute to the history of the sport. The winner of the category (open to enduro motorbikes with larger tanks and navigation instruments) is a biker from Morocco, the cradle of rally raids, part of the continent where the legend of the Dakar was forged. It was precisely the Rallye du Maroc that cleared his path to glory with the overall victory and four stage wins out of five. And it was in Andalusia, a stone’s throw away from his home country, that Echiguer secured the World Rally-Raid Championship title by finishing as the runner-up to a man destined to greatness: Jeremy Miroir, the dominant force of this Andalucía Rally.

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W2RC promoter David Castera:
“The World Championship has come to an end. It was the first edition for the FIA, while the FIM stayed on board and ASO joined the team as a promoter. Overall, we’re really happy because we got a lot of entrants, including the best teams. In the T1 category, we were treated to a great duel between Loeb and Nasser, the stars of the sport. We may not have attracted every big name in the first season, but we managed to create a dynamic with plenty of suspense until the last moment. It was a good start, and it will only get better from here thanks to the addition of two races in South America and North America that will bring more teams to the table and make the championship even more dynamic. All in all, it was a good first season and we look forward to building the future.”

2022 FIA/FIM World Rally-Raid Champions
· FIA: Nasser Al-Attiyah (Toyota Gazoo Racing)
· T3: Francisco López (Can-Am Factory South Racing)
· T4: Rokas Baciuška (South Racing Can-Am)
· T5: Kees Koolen (Project 2030)
· Motorbikes — Rally GP: Sam Sunderland (GasGas Factory Racing)
· Motorbikes — Rally 2: Mason Klein (BAS World KTM Racing Team)
· Motorbikes — Rally 3: Amine Echiguer (Team Maroc ART)
· Quads: Alexandre Giroud (Yamaha-SMX-Drag’on)