FIA-FIM World Rally Raid Championships 2022: Hierarchy starting to take shape halfway through the Dakar
The World Championships are in full swing. The six stages held so far have begun to force a selection between the entrants and crews who signed up for the five rounds of the 2022 season (full list available on the W2RC website). Next up are the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in March, the Rally Kazakhstan in April, the Andalucía Rally in June and the Rallye du Maroc in October.
As expected, the Dakar leaders, starting with Nasser Al-Attiyah in the car category (T1), are on the right track to harvest a bumper crop of points at the end of the race (points scale available on the FIA website). Although several competitors are no longer in contention for the Dakar title, some continue to vigorously hunt points, chief among them Seth Quintero, who is racking up one stage win after another in the T3 category.
The first FIM World Championship Points will not be awarded until the end of the Dakar, but the first trends are beginning to emerge among the movers and shakers who will be ahead of the pack once this first round is over. Sam Sunderland, the leader at the halfway point, has laid down a tentative marker, while a handful of young Rally2 bikers are showing that they too have what it takes to fight for the title that is also at stake in their category. Young American Mason Klein is already setting the tone.
CARS: THE GAME IS ON BETWEEN AL-ATTIYAH AND LOEB
Seeing Toyota Gazoo Racing's Nasser Al-Attiyah perched at the top of the standings by a wide margin was the logical outcome of the events of the first week, but his lead in the W2RC is much smaller. The Qatari has 20 points, 2 more than Sébastien Loeb, while Overdrive Racing's Yazeed Al-Rajhi (14 points) has picked up enough places of honour to be considered a serious threat.
While their aim may not be to go head to head with the boss of the competition, several drivers racing for private teams will be seeking to play their cards right in certain episodes of the series. Mathieu Serradori and his Century buggy, for example, opened their account thanks to their stage 5 performance (third among the W2RC entrants). Chasing the same objective is Guerlain Chicherit (GCK), who scored a near-miss on the same day. X-raid Mini's Jakub Przygoński, MD Rallye Sport Optimus, Pierre Lachaume and Jean-Rémy Bergounhe could also pull it off.
Constructor standings, based on the points earned by the top two drivers in each team who have entered the W2RC, are calculated after each round. Toyota seems poised to take the lion's share, with BRX not too far behind, not least because "Orly" Terranova supplemented Sébastien Loeb's performance with a stage win and proved that he is an asset to the Hunters on the same level as "Nani" Roma.
LIGHTWEIGHT PROTOTYPES / T3: LOSER TAKES ALL
Out of the running for the overall title in Jeddah since his withdrawal in stage 2, Seth Quintero has turned to the hunt for W2RC points. The American is doing a superb job in his new quest, gobbling up all the specials held so far except the one that knocked him out of contention. He already has 25 points to his name. Meanwhile, "Chaleco", who made the transition to the same category in 2022 with Can-Am South Racing, is a mere 3 points behind. Cristina Gutiérrez stands on the provisional podium with 14 points, just ahead of his Red Bull Off Road Junior Team stablemate, Guillaume De Mevius, with 9.
Further back, seventeen entrants have earned points so far, including Philippe Pinchedez, who grabbed some thanks to his first podium finish. They will be stepping into the fray for the podium in Morocco. Prestigious teams such as PH Racing, X-raid Yamaha, FN Speed and Buggyra ZM Racing will only get stronger as the season progresses.
In the constructor standings, Overdrive is in the pole position thanks to its OT3s driven by Quintero, Gutiérrez, De Mevius and Mikkelsen, but the ambitious Can-Ams of South Racing, Pinch Racing, FN Speed and Sebastian Guyasamin, the PH-Sport Zephyrs and the X-raid Yamahas should not be counted out.
SSVs / T4: WHEN IT'S NOT ONE GOCZAŁ IT'S THE OTHER
If the W2RC had a family ranking, the Goczałs would almost have it in the bag by now. The Polish brothers racing for Cobant-Energylandia have already grabbed two Dakar stage wins each, along with the W2RC points that come with them… but pooling their scores is not an option! This benefits South Racing Can-Am's Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira. While the Brazilian has only won a single stage, he has finished on the podium on two other occasions, good enough to move into the lead of the championship with 20 points.
Austin Jones has shown a similar level of consistency and is tied with Michał Goczał in second place with 18 points apiece. Marek is hot on their heels in fourth place, with 17 points, followed by Rokas Baciuška with 9 and, finally, Aron Domżała with 8. The other two pretenders to the crown, South Racing's Lucas del Río and FN Speed's Gaël Gueralt, will soon join this fratricidal war between Can-Ams.
TRUCKS / T5: MACÍK ON THE RIGHT TRACK
As a result of the amendments to the FIA regulations that came into force this year, trucks are now a fully-fledged category whose winner will be awarded a title at the end of the championship. Five pioneering crews have thrown their hat into the ring. Big Shock Racing, with Martin Macík at the helm, has thrown the kitchen sink at the competition with a total of three trucks. The Czech boss is leading by example. He has accumulated 28 points, while his Dutch brother in arms, Kees Koolen, is close behind with 22.
MOTORBIKES: WALKNER WELL PLACED FOR REPEAT VICTORY
The FIM regulations for the motorbikes diverge from their FIA counterparts when it comes to awarding points. Bikers do not get bonus points at the end of each stage. Why? To avoid incentivising them to chase places of honour at the expense of their race management, in line with the original ethos of the sport, which rewards endurance over raw speed in the motorbike category, making the race safer for the competitors who are exposed to the gravest danger in the event of a crash. Therefore, no points will be awarded until the finish of the first leg of the W2RC.
Attempting to predict the odds of success of the riders of the six constructors in the W2RC is a fool's errand, but the reigning world champion, KTM's Matthias Walkner, has been proving for a week that he is in a position to defend his crown. "Hiasi" is sitting in second place overall, sandwiched between the two official GasGas bikers. The Spanish maker stands to take the bulk of the points up for grabs for the constructor standings. Yet Honda's four riders still in the race, KTM's "dream team" of three former Dakar champions and Sherco's "Santo", ready to pounce on any opportunity, all have a real shot at scoring big for their teams. Hero also showed that it is a force to be reckoned with as Joaquim Rodrigues claimed the Indian outfit's maiden win. Xavier de Soultrait, riding a Husqvarna, and Martin Michek, on a KTM, are holding up well among the works riders and are worth keeping an eye on.
Rally 2 bikers, automatically included in the competition by the FIM to drum up interest in the sport, will also see their standings take shape once the Dakar is over. It is a way for them to catch the attention of the factories and media, as well as potential sponsors, which they need to raise the funds needed to climb up the ladder. Mason Klein is being touted as the big favourite to win in Rally 2. The 20-year-old American is comfortably in control, ahead of fellow rookie Bradley Cox. Camille Chapelière, top Frenchman and 22nd overall in his Dakar debut in 2021, is breathing down the neck of Alfie Cox's son. Two other Dakar newcomers, the experienced Paolo Lucci and Romain Dumontier, the former enduro racer with ten EnduroGP seasons under his belt (or should we say belt bag), are also keen to crash the party.
QUADS: GIROUD AND COPETTI IN PRIME POSITION
In the quad competition, Manuel Andújar, runner-up in the 2021 World Cup after winning every leg bar the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, which he did not enter, was hoping to win back his crown at the end of the season. Yet the Argentinian's withdrawal in stage 6 means that the first round of his World Cup campaign was a big flop. Giroud, Copetti and Maksimov, currently leading the Dakar, look set to divvy up the first points at the end of the first leg!