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SONORA RALLY 2023: FIA-FIM WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS | SANDERS CALLS THE SHOTS AS LOEB CALLS IT QUITS

Stage 3, a loop around Puerto Peñasco, featured a 350 km special —the longest of the race. Daniel Sanders (Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing) picked up his second win in as many days in the motorbike race. “Chucky” emerged victorious and pocketed a whopping seven minutes of bonus time for opening the road, putting clear daylight between him and his closest rivals in the overall.
In the car category, Sébastien Loeb (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) went off track 12 kilometers into the stage and got stuck in a ditch. His co-driver, Fabian Lurquin, hurt his shoulder and had to throw in the towel at the end of the day, leaving the world championship leader with no choice but to withdraw.
Nasser Al Attiyah (Toyota Gazoo Racing) jumped on the opportunity to seize the overall lead by a margin of less than three minutes over today’s winner, Yazeed Al Rajhi.
Nasser Al Attiyah, who suffered a fate similar to that of the Frenchman in the second round of the championship, now has a chance to erase his 16-point deficit to Sébastien Loeb.

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FIM: Sanders plays it solo

After winning yesterday’s stage, Daniel Sanders led the charge in the longest special of the race, a challenge that the Australian tackled with flying colors. Toby Price (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Ricky Brabec (Monster Energy Honda) came close to his intermediate times, but “Chucky” let his speed do the talking near the end of the special and posted the fastest raw time. Tasked with opening the stage from start to finish at this pace, he racked up nearly seven minutes of bonus time. Ricky Brabec, a four-time winner of the Sonora Rally, found himself relegated to 6′40″, which a one-minute penalty for speeding brought 7′40″ —exactly the same as Toby Price‘s deficit at the finish. In the overall standings, Sanders opened up a wide gap and now has 15′11″ to spare over Luciano Benavides (Husqvarna Factory Racing) and 16′42″ over Price. Adrien Van Beveren (Monster Energy Honda) is 17′17″ down. Brabec, who knows the race like the back of his hand, was already resigned and even ventured a prediction that “Chucky” would collect more bonus time in the next two days, cruising towards his first career victory in the world championship. The record holder for wins in the Sonora Rally knows that he is out of the running for a fifth title in Mexico despite a solid performance today. A crash in stage 1 damaged his exhaust, which ended up wrecking an internal sensor of his top engine in yesterday’s stage. The change of the CRF Rally block last night cost the Californian 15 minutes in penalties, pushing him down to eleventh place, nearly twenty-seven minutes back: “Bonus time is definitely a big advantage this rally, but if you don’t have a shot at taking over the rider in front of you and gaining some minutes on them then don’t plan on getting bonus time [laughter]. It’s been a roller coaster, but I wish things were different for us, we will try to come back next year to regain the champ of Sonora, this place is awesome and looking forward to two more days of action in the desert with the competition.”  

In Rally2, Romain Dumontier (HT Rally Raid Husqvarna Racing) once again dominated the stage from A to Z. Only Jacob Argubright (Duust Diverse Racing) managed to stay in touch, finishing 2′21″ behind the Frenchman. “Dudu” now leads the overall standings by 11′55″ over Argubright, 18′46″ over Bradley Cox, and 25′23″ over Paolo Lucci, the two BAS World KTM Racing riders. In Rally3, the Italian Massimo Camurri won again and expanded his lead in the standings to more than an hour over his two rivals. In the quad category, the leader of the championship, Laisvydas Kancius, went back to his winning ways by defeating Rodolfo Guillioli by 17′35″. The Lithuanian can breathe easier in the standings, where he now holds a margin of 34′06″.

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FIA: Loeb in a ditch, Al Attiyah on top    

The pair of Mexican mustaches that Sébastien Loeb trimmed yesterday to blend in with the scenery turned out to have no more than a placebo effect. 12 kilometers into the special, the race leader went too wide in a curve bordered by a ditch that Steeve Mc Queen himself would have never dreamed of jumping. With their Hunter irretrievably stuck, the Franco-Belgian crew quickly resigned themselves to contacting their support crew in the bivouac to ask for their help, painfully aware that their day was over, not least because Fabian Lurquin was suffering from his shoulder and also requested a medical evacuation. Starting in first position in the stage, Loeb showed his opponents a window of opportunity very early in the day. Yazeed Al Rajhi staged a barnstorming comeback from his fifteenth place at the start. The Overdrive Racing driver won the stage by 3′09″ over Sebastián Halpern (X-raid Mini JCW), 3′55″ over Nasser Al Attiyah, and 4′44″ over Guerlain Chicherit (GCK Motorsport). Al Attiyah took back control of the overall, while Al Rajhi, who had started the day in fifth place, moved up to second, 2′51″ behind the Qatari. Halpern reached the podium at 5′06″ and ousted Chicherit, now fourth at 5′43″. At the end of the day, the BRX team revealed that Fabian Lurquin had suffered a slight fracture that prevented him from navigating for his driver, leading de facto to the withdrawal of the crew. The retirement of the world championship leader leaves the door open for Nasser Al Attiyah, who has had a 16-point deficit in the championship since the second round in Abu Dhabi. Back then, it was the Qatari who was leading the overall standings when he rolled over and damaged the roll cage of his Hilux, forcing him to quit. This evening, it was his arch-rival’s turn to bite the dust. The championship could be totally shaken up by the end of the race… as long as Nasser Al Attiyah manages to reach the finish of the Sonora Rally in two days.

In T3, the winner of yesterday’s stage, “Chaleco” López (Red Bull Can-Am Factory), screeched to a halt near the beginning of the stage due to a mechanical. Mattias Ekström (South Racing Can-Am) took the win by 3′52″ of João Ferreira (X-raid Yamaha). Seth Quintero (Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA) finished third at 4′34″, ahead of his teammate Cristina Gutiérrez (Red Bull Can-Am Factory) at 6′27″. In the overall standings, the Swede has 9′44″ over the Spaniard and 10′04″ over Mitch Guthrie Junior (Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA). In T4, Rokas Baciuška (Red Bull Can-Am Factory) bagged his fourth consecutive win and now has 1 h 22′39″ in hand over Rebecca Busi (FN Speed).

Chris Leone

A veteran of the motorsports industry (both physical and digital), Chris Leone contributes coverage of race events of all types to Off-Road Racer. Elsewhere, he is the marketing/communications manager at iRacing, media director of Jim Beaver's Down & Dirty Show, and a frequent contributor to UTV Underground.