- Round 3 of the FIA and FIM championships is just 5 days away. The Sonora Rally, which is making its first appearance on the calendar, will take place in Mexico from 22 to 28 April.
- The field will tackle a 2,278 km adventure, with 1,203 km of timed sections over 5 stages, including the traditional prologue.
- 48 out of 118 are competing in the W2RC: 26 FIM riders and 22 FIA crews.
- Sébastien Loeb (cars) and Toby Price (motorbikes) are leading the pack going into the third of the five rounds that make up the championship.
FIM: full house for the works riders, four comebacks on the cards
The FIM start list features 14 RallyGP riders, including all 13 factory riders in the 2023 championship. This means Kevin Benavides and Matthias Walkner (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) as well as Sam Sunderland and Daniel Sanders (Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing) should be back in action after skipping Abu Dhabi due to injuries. Toby Price (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) tops the leaderboard ahead of the winner of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, Adrien Van Beveren (Monster Energy Honda), with 46 points to the Frenchman’s 42. The Dakar champion, Kevin Benavides, is third with 38 despite having to sit out round 2. He had the worst injury of the four returnees, breaking his femur in late February.
The Rally2 category has 7 riders on the line. Paolo Lucci (BAS World KTM Racing), perched at the top of the standings with 50 points, will have to contend with the winner of the Dakar, Romain Dumontier (Husqvarna HT Rally Raid), with 38 points to his name. The Frenchman sits third in the category despite skipping the second round. Bradley Cox is also back with BAS World KTM Racing and Duust Diverse Racing will have three riders. The Chinese team Kove is fielding two riders in the W2RC for the first time after its rally-raid debut in the Dakar : Niels Theric and Sunier Sunier. Sonora Rally will also launch the Rally3. Three of them will enter the championship. 2 quad riders have signed up for the race, with Laisvydas Kancius (AG Dakar School), the leader of the standings with 44 points, going head to head with Rodolfo Guillioli.
FIM: Al Attiyah on a mission to retake the lead from Loeb
The FIA race will see 12 T1 crews battle it out. Nasser Al Attiyah (Toyota Gazoo Racing) is second in the championship with 85 points after smashing up his car in a barrel roll in Abu Dhabi. The reigning world champion is back with a vengeance to erase his 16-point deficit to Sébastien Loeb (Bahrain Raid Xtreme), who leads with 101 points. Martin Prokop (Orlen Benzina Team) is hanging onto third place by a thread, with 64 points, one more than Yazeed Al Rajhi (Overdrive Racing). Guerlain Chicherit (GCK Motorsport), who had to bail out of Abu Dhabi due to a nasty bout of dune sickness, is also back in the game. The Frenchman and Juan Cruz Yacopini (Overdrive Racing) are tied with 49 points each in fifth and sixth place. Sebastián Halpern (seventh with 43 points) and Denis Krotov are going to unleash their X-raid Mini JCW T1+ beasts for the third time in an official event. Guoyo Zhang and Zi Yunglian stand ready to fly the flag for China again with BAIC ORV.
Among the 12 entrants in the T3 category, Mattias Ekström is back behind the wheel of a South Racing Can-Am T3, along with David Zille. Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA is also back in full force with its three American drivers at the top of the standings, where Seth Quintero (127 points) leads Austin Jones (122 points) and Mitch Guthrie Jr (81 points). “Chaleco” López (fourth with 55 points), who missed the previous round to welcome his third child into this world, is set to join Cristina Gutiérrez (fifth with 52 points) in the Red Bull Can-Am Factory Racing team. In the X-raid Yamaha camp, the drivers are the same, but the names are not! It is not João Ferreira (sixth with 51 points) who has a new identity, but Annett Quandt. The second female driver in the standings swapped her maiden name, Fischer, for the surname of the X-raid team boss. Among the 3 entrants in the T4 race, the leader of the championship, Rokas Baciuška (Red Bull Can-Am Factory Racing), with 134 points in the pocket, will face off against the works Polaris driver Shinsuke Umeda (Xtreme Plus), with 44, and the female driver Rebecca Busi (FN Speed).
A route that ventures into every nook and cranny of Sonora
Darren Skilton’s team unveiled the course of the five stages of the ninth edition of the Sonora Rally a few days ago. The route stretches for nearly 2,300 km, with 1,200 km of selective sections. The action will kick off with a prologue and a first stage looping north of Hermosillo. The ranchlandssurrounding the capital of Sonora are wide, flat and fast between the low sharp mountains dotting the area. Vehicles will wind through cacti so old, and so massive, they will seem as giants in the dust kicked up by the fight. They cast some of the only shadows in Sonora save for the mountainous piles of stone or sand. After that, stage 2 will see them head westward to the Gulf of Cortez and follow its coast northward until Puerto Peñasco. Although it doesn’t appear at first glance, the loose khaki coloured earth makes up much of the land which leads to the Sea of Cortez. And in places, it crumbles, taking away whatever lies on or crosses over until the ground finally touches the water. In the heat of Mexico’s unrelenting sun, the beaches are soft and troubling, but they boast a breathtaking view of azul from your feet to the heavens. It’ll be tough for racers to keep their full attention on the route, however hard they try. They will set up camp in Puerto Peñasco for three nights in a beach camp-like bivouac. Stages 3 and 4 will loop around the fishing port and its famous beaches, but there will be no time for lounging in the sun, as the stage 3 special, which marks the halfway point of the race, will be the longest of the week at almost 350 km. These stages will also venture south-east to explore the full width of this part of the state. Stage 5, the finale, will resume the northwest course of stage 2 and come to an end in San Luis Río Colorado, the “home” of the Sonora Rally, on the border with the US state of Arizona. The path to the border becomes both featureless and futile in places. Introducing new challenges, some which might seem familiar. Others which may look unlike anything the racers have ever seen before. Eerie and empty and beautiful for it. Let them try not to leave this country in love. And for those who are lucky enough to have this place in their backyard, it’ll be a happy reminder of why they keep returning.
- 22 April — Hermosillo: administrative and technical scrutineering in Parque La Ruina (8 am to 6:30 pm) / press room and accreditation opens at the Araiza Hotel (9 am to 8 pm) / private test on the Cerro Colorado race track (10 am to 4 pm) / publication of the list of vehicles cleared to start and of the prologue start list (8 pm on Sportity) / competitor briefing at the theatre in Parque La Ruina (8 pm).
- 23 April — Prologue: Hermosillo–Hermosillo: start ceremony in Parque La Ruina at 1 pm / start of the prologue (10 km) at 1:45 pm / selection of the starting positions for stage 1 at 7 pm / publication of the starting order for stage 1 at 8 pm.
- 24 April — Stage 1: Hermosillo–Hermosillo (total length / special: 333 km / 168 km).
- 25 April — Stage 2: Hermosillo–Peñasco (total length / special: 541 km / 286 km).
- 26 April — Stage 3: Peñasco–Peñasco (total length / special: 466 km / 350 km).
- 27 April — Stage 4: Peñasco–Peñasco (total length / special: 485 km / 248 km).
- 28 April — Stage 5: Peñasco–San Luis Río Colorado (total length / special: 398 km / 139 km).