Magical night for Nasser Al Attiyah, Mathieu Baumel and Toyota

Key points:

  • The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) feted its 2023 champions at its traditional prize giving, held in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku on Friday, 8 December 2023 in the presence of FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem.
  • The winners of the inaugural edition of the World Rally-Raid Championship in 2022, Nasser Al Attiyah and his co-driver Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing), mounted a successful title defence this season, earning them a spot in the constellation of stars that lit up the evening on the shores of the Caspian Sea.
  • Toyota also secured the 2023 Manufacturers' trophy in a repeat of their exploit from 2022. It was a historic season for the Hiluxes, which completed a clean sweep of the five races on the calendar —a fitting end to the Franco-Qatari duo's adventure with the Japanese maker.
  • Launched in 2022, the World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC) had a bumper year in 2023 for its second edition. On the one hand, the calendar expanded from four to five races with the introduction of two American rounds in Mexico (Sonora Rally) and Argentina (Desafío Ruta 40), which proved decisive in the title fight (see below). On the other hand, the competition and its five categories (T1, T2, T3, T4 and T5) drew around 121 FIA competitors from 26 countries. A feat celebrated at the traditional FIA Prize Giving, where the W2RC earned its place in the pantheon of international motor sports, alongside F1, FE, Karting, the WEC, the WRC and the WRX.

Once upon a time in America

After clinching the title in 2022, the Nasser Al Attiyah-Mathieu Baumel duo started their crown defence with a bang in the Dakar, where their almost metronomic consistency helped them to steer clear of trouble. However, they did not leave Saudi Arabia in the championship lead. That accolade went to Sébastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme), who came in second in the Dakar but were 2 points ahead in the ranking when factoring in the stage points —the Franco-Belgian duo had taken 7 specials, including a victorious streak of 6 stages in a row! Sébastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin even expanded their lead to 16 points following the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, where Nasser Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel had to throw in the towel after their roll cage got damaged in a crash. This incident also played into the hands of Yazeed Al Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk (Overdrive Racing), who picked up their first W2RC round in the United Arab Emirates. The title holders had their backs against the wall and needed to strike back in the next two races, held in the Americas. It was there, in the deserts that had never featured in the championship before, that everything changed.

Used to being chased, Nasser Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel turned into the chasers in the Sonora Rally. In addition to opening their season account in Mexico, they took advantage of an excursion that knocked Sébastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin out of the race to seize the championship lead. The Franco-Qatari duo then flexed their muscles by pocketing 53 out of the 55 points on offer in the Desafío Ruta 40. 51 points was the size of their new lead over Yazeed Al Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk going into the last round of the season, the Rallye du Maroc. Only a miracle could stop the reigning champions from making it two titles in a row. Unfazed by the long odds, the Saudi gave it his all and clinched the finale, but Nasser Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel bagged enough points to secure their second W2RC crown. Juan Cruz Yacopini and his co-driver, Daniel Oliveras Carreras, finished third, locking up the championship podium for the Toyota Hiluxes. No surprises, then, that the Japanese maker won its second manufacturers' title.

A rendezvous with history in 2024

After wrapping up the championship in October and receiving the crown from the FIA on 8 December, Nasser Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel are now focused on their next goal: scoring a hat-trick in 2024. The Dakar will get the third season of the W2RC under way from 5 to 19 January. The champions will have their work cut out for them after switching to a new manufacturer following a bountiful seven-year stint with Toyota. Now, the Qatari has a rendezvous with history in the Dakar, where he hopes to become the first car driver to win the rally with four different constructors. The caravan will then tackle the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge from 25 February to 2 March. From 2 to 7 April, it will race in Europe for the first time since October 2022, blasting down the Portuguese and Spanish tracks of the new BP Ultimate Rally-Raid. The Americas will return for the fourth round of the season, the Desafío Ruta 40, held from 2 to 8 June. As in 2023, the Rallye du Maroc will wrap up the season from 5 to 11 October.

Quotes:

David Castera, A.S.O. / Promoter: "The suspense remained until the last race, and the favorites managed to retain their crown. Nasser Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel faced a tough opposition, but their skills in difficult moments allowed them to triumph again. They have proven that they know how to combine speed and management, and fully deserve their title. It’s also the case for Toyota, which has remained a reference in the bivouac. A great 2023 W2RC season is coming to an end and 2024 promises to be even more intense, with interesting changes on the starting grid and a new race, which is always a challenge. It will be a balanced calendar, with a wide variety of areas and a competition that promises to be great!"

Alain Dujardyn, Principal of the Toyota Gazoo Racing W2RC Team, the FIA World Rally-Raid manufacturers' champion: "What we achieved in 2023 feels incredible. We won the Dakar and the W2RC titles for the second year in a row thanks to our GR DKR Hilux T1+ and our skilled and committed duo of Nasser Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel. We're now embarking on a new adventure with the GR DKR Hilux EVO T1U, which promises to kick things up another notch. But wait, there's more: we also have one of the strongest crews in the bivouac, and we can't wait to hit the track."

Nasser Al Attiyah, 2023 FIA World Rally-Raid drivers' champion: "I'm really happy. It's amazing to have won the W2RC for the second time in a row. It wasn't easy to defend our title this year, but we did it and won the Dakar to boot. It's fantastic to be part of the ceremony in Baku, a new destination for us. I've been to many award ceremonies, we have plenty of trophies, but this one is special for me because it's a world championship and we successfully defended our title."

Mathieu Baumel, 2023 FIA World Rally-Raid co-drivers' champion: "It's a real pleasure to be here in Baku to celebrate all the 2023 FIA champions. Way to go, everyone! It's the icing on the cake of a brilliant season: we won the Dakar, the Middle East Rally Championship, the World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas and, of course, the World Rally-Raid Championship… It's been so much fun to share this with Nasser Al Attiyah!"

Did you know?
Nasser Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel's statistics show just competitive how these two men are. Prior to the launch of the W2RC in 2022, they had already racked up one FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies after another (5 for the driver and 4 for his co-driver). Whatever the country, whatever the course or the terrain, they are rarely, if ever, far from the front of the race. This year, they won a whopping 14 out of 34 stages on the programme, amounting to 41% of the total. The Toyota Hiluxes did even better, with 18 stages in their pocket (53%) as well as the overall in each of the five rounds that made up the season. The very definition of "dominance".

2023 FIA W2RC champions:
• FIA World Rally-Raid Championship, Drivers: Nasser Al Attiyah (QAT — Toyota Gazoo Racing)
• FIA World Rally-Raid Championship, Co-drivers: Mathieu Baumel (FRA — Toyota Gazoo Racing)
• FIA World Rally-Raid Championship, Manufacturers: Toyota Gazoo Racing
• FIA T3 Rally-Raid Championship, Drivers: Seth Quintero (USA — Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA by BFG)
• FIA T3 Rally-Raid Championship, Co-drivers: Dennis Zenz (GER — Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA by BFG)
• FIA T4 Rally-Raid Championship, Drivers: Rokas Baciuška (LTU — Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team)
• FIA T4 Rally-Raid Championship, Co-drivers: Oriol Vidal Montijano (ESP — Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team)
• FIA T5 Rally-Raid Championship, Drivers: Janus van Kasteren (NED — Boss Machinery Team De Rooy Iveco)
• FIA T5 Rally-Raid Championship, Co-drivers: "Darek" Rodewald (POL — Boss Machinery Team De Rooy Iveco) — Marcel Snijders (NED — Boss Machinery Team De Rooy Iveco)

Source: A.S.O. / W2RC
Photo: Julien Delfosse / DPPI and FREDERIC LE FLOC H / DPPI