DW Sonora midway

Mexican terrain proves hard to tame as Sonora Rally enters the home straight

The off-road action so far at the Sonora Rally has been intense as the convoy prepares to tackle the final two stages in Mexico. We’ve seen World Rally-Raid Championship leaders and title holders run into difficulty as the opening three stages all threw up their fair share of drama. Let’s run through the pack to see who is riding high as the rally nears the home straight.

Ahead of Stage 3 it was Sébastien Loeb and co-driver Fabian Lurquin who had parked their BRX Prodrive Hunter in first place overall in the T1 rankings. The good times didn’t last though for the nine-time WRC winner as he came to a standstill just 12 kilometres into Stage 3 after getting stuck in a ditch. A decision will be made overnight on whether or not Loeb and Lurquin will rejoin the rally on Stage 4.

“We were on an off-road track and came to a crest with a very tight left-hand corner. There was a big ditch in front that we couldn’t see.” – Sébastien Loeb

Now it’s Nasser Al-Attiyah who has a chance to be the new T1 leader with just two stops of the 2023 W2RC season remaining. The Qatari, his co-driver Mathieu Baumel and their Toyota Hilux GR DKR T1+ were just three seconds behind Loeb before Stage 3. Al-Attiyah now leads the T1 class and may well end up clawing back the 16 points he trails Loeb by in the overall W2RC rankings by the time we’re done in Mexico.

“We saw that Loeb had crashed and we were also lucky to finish today. We are still leading overall and we want to keep hold of this position until the end.” – Nasser Al-Attiyah

It’s Daniel Sanders of Red Bull GASGAS Factory Racing who continues to lead the bike race at the Sonora Rally. A couple of stage wins and some exceptional navigational work have put ‘Chucky’ in pole position to win in Mexico with just two stages left to race. Leading out today’s 347-kilometre timed special stage from start to finish must go down as one of the best single day performances of Sanders’s career so far.

“I led the stage out all day and nobody caught me. I had a lot of fun on the tracks so I want to say ‘Gracias Mexico!’” – Daniel Sanders

In the pack looking to hunt down Sanders are the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing trio of Toby Price, Matthias Walkner and Kevin Benavides. Of these three bikers it’s current W2RC overall leader Price who is closest to the race summit, sitting fourth overall.

“Not too bad today. We got through it all and the bike’s still in one piece. No crashes, no big issues so bring on day four.” – Toby Price

The physical nature of the rally’s longest stage was certainly a challenge for Benavides who fractured his right femur earlier this year.

“We had over 200km of sand, lots of camel grass and soft tracks. There were also lots of whoops. For sure it wasn’t the best kind of terrain for my leg, but I just tried my best to stay on the bike all day.” – Kevin Benavides

It’s now certain that a new FIM World Rally-Raid Championship winner will be crowned this year after defending title holder Sam Sunderland crashed out in Mexico on Stage 2.

Mattias Ekström is out of his Audi RS Q e-tron E2 and behind the wheel of a Can-Am in Mexico as he drives in the T3 class. It’s all going well so far for the versatile Swede and his compatriot co-driver Emil Bergkvist, they hold first place in the T3 category after three stages.

“The Sonora Rally has started very nicely for us. Now we’ve had the prologue and the first three stages. On today’s stage we had another really good flow with no real hiccups.” – Mattias Ekström

Second overall in the T3 class with two stages left to go is the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA presented by BFGoodrich crew of Mitch Guthrie Jr./Kellon Walch in their MCE5 vehicle. Following a win on the Prologue Stage, Guthrie Jr. has been in the Top 3 overall throughout the opening days of the Sonora Rally.

“Now there’s still two stages to go so we’ll keep fighting for the overall.” – Mitch Guthrie Jr.

It was a tough Stage 1 for Seth Quintero who arrived in Mexico as the W2RC leader of the T3 class. Quintero and co-driver Dennis Zenz saw a rear wheel torn off their Can-Am on the opening stage which ended up costing them close to two hours.

There have also been various issues in the challenging terrain of the Sonora Rally for other leading T3 crews such as Chaleco Lopez/Juan Pablo Latrach, Austin ‘AJ’ Jones/Gustavo Gugelmin and Cristina Gutiérrez/Pablo Moreno as they look to keep pace with the race lead. Of this group it is Gutiérrez who is best placed as she moved to third overall during Stage 3. Gutiérrez and Ekström are testing different specs on their Can-Ams compared with their rivals and so far it seems to be helping them out.

“It was a difficult stage for us, we took a lot of dust and this made it difficult to overtake. We tried our best to maintain a good rhythm and we’re happy to finish with the car in one piece.” – Cristina Gutiérrez

The smoothest ride in Mexico over the opening three stages has belonged to T4 class leader Rokas Baciuška and his co-driver Oriol Vidal. Baciuška has won every stage so far in the T4 category and enjoys an overall lead of close to half an hour.

“Today was the longest day of the rally, but it was also fun. A good mix of dunes and fast roads. At this rally I have found stages that are really fun to drive.” – Rokas Baciuška

The 2023 Sonora Rally continues tomorrow with 252 kilometres to race on Stage 4. The chequered flag will then fly on Friday, April 28 in San Luis Río Colorado at the conclusion of 1,249 racing kilometres spread across five stages in Mexico.