FIA-FIM World Championships: Planet Rally-Raids reaches its apogee
- The 2022 season marks a turning point for rally-raids with the inception of World Championships consisting of the same five races for the FIA and FIM. After the show gets on the road with the start of the Dakar in Jeddah, the competition will head to Abu Dhabi in March, Kazakhstan in April, Andalusia in June and Morocco in October.
- As soon as the news came out, the constructors with skin in the game jumped in to set the stage for this melodrama and a clash featuring the greatest champions. Expect to see a close-run and unpredictable competition in both the car and the motorbike categories.
- A total of 53 crews representing 6 constructors have already signed up for the FIA World Championship, while 15 bikers riding for 6 constructors have thrown their hats into the ring for the FIM World Championship.
The stage is set for a mammoth battle. Most of the contenders on the start line of the 44th edition of the Dakar are taking up a challenge for the entire 2022 season in the hopes of claiming the world champion title at the end of the five rounds on the programme. In the car category, the four main teams will fight for the crown while some independent teams could manage to get some interesting results. The leading Dakar constructors are banking on their champions, starting with Nasser Al-Attiyah, who has won the competition five times in the "World Cup" format. Remarkably consistent throughout the season, the Qatari will face stiff competition from the likes of Sébastien Loeb, who has a shot at what would be his tenth FIA world championship after racking up nine consecutive WRC titles between 2004 and 2012. The concept of this serialised competition has also convinced his BRX teammate Joan "Nani" Roma to give it a go. Other rock-solid candidates such as Toyota's Yazeed Al-Rajhi and X-Raid's Jakub Przygoński have also picked up the gauntlet. Certain outsiders unused to shining throughout the season will now be in a position to take the fight to the favourites. This role is the perfect fit for drivers such as Mathieu Serradori and his SRT Racing buggies, as well as MD Rallye Sport's Jean-Rémy Bergounhe and Guerlain Chicherit, who is back behind the wheel and, perhaps, back in business.
A look at the start list for the motorbike category also promises full-blown battles packed with emotions. Basking in the glow of his 2021 Dakar victory, KTM's Kevin Benavides will be a man to watch, but his favourite status could be put in doubt as soon as January, not least by his teammate Matthias Walkner, the 2015 and 2021 world champion, but also by the other former Dakar winners riding Austrian motorbikes, Toby Price and Sam Sunderland. It goes without saying that Honda will also be in the mix, with Ricky Brabec as a dependable asset, but also with his new stablemate at the Japanese constructor, Pablo Quintanilla, who already tasted glory in 2016 and 2017. A strong performance on the Saudi tracks and dunes will be required to avoid being knocked out of contention in the first round.
The desire to hold jousts year-round has a lot to do with the champions, but rally raids also whet the appetite of private structures that race on the same terrain and also come out all guns blazing. The T3 and T4 categories have all the ingredients for a competition in which amateurs sometimes carry the day. For example, among the lightweight prototypes, Cristina Gutiérrez (OT3-Red Bull) and "Chaleco" López (CanAm-South Racing) will have to keep a close eye on candidates such as Jean-Luc Pisson (PH-Sport) and Annett Fisher (Yamaha), who intend to go the distance for all 5 rounds. Among the SSVs, Austin Jones (CanAm-South Racing) will also have his work cut out for him, with drivers such as the Italian Eugenio Amos and the young Lithuanian Rokas Baciuška snapping at his heels in equivalent machines.
Finally, the launch of this new formula has given FIA the opportunity to create a separate category for trucks, for which new regulations have been devised. Two teams will be leading the charge and building momentum for the competition: Big Shock Racing Team, spearheaded by Czech Martin Macík, and Fesh-Fesh Team, with Albert Llovera at the helm.