Al Rajhi wins Argentina while Al-Attiyah eyes W2RC title

Late seat belt drama costs Dacia-bound driver chance of South American success


Nasser Al-Attiyah put one hand on a third successive World Rally-Raid Championship title after finishing second to Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al Rajhi on the Desafío Ruta 40 in Argentina.

Al-Attiyah, who had previously not been expected to compete in South America due to his testing commitments with the Dacia Sandriders, made a slow start to the event but pushed Al Rajhi’s Toyota all the way in the final two stages, eventually ending up just 40 seconds adrift at the finish.

Navigated once again by Édouard Boulanger in his Nasser Racing Prodrive Hunter, Al-Attiyah now holds a 25-point margin over Al Rajhi heading into the final round of the year, October’s Rallye du Maroc, where Al-Attiyah could win the title at the wheel of a Dacia.

For Al Rajhi, it is a first W2RC victory of the season after a Dakar plagued by suspension issues, and one which keeps the Saudi driver in the hunt for the championship.

Completing the podium at the end of the five-day South American rally was the local X-raid Mini JCW crew of former winner Sebastian Halpern and navigator Ronnie Graue.


Second place in Argentina leaves Al-Attiyah well clear in the race for this year's W2RC silverware

Al Rajhi won the first and the last stage, the latter especially crucial given that the Toyota driver and navigator Timo Gottschalk were only 13s clear of Al-Attiyah following a superb fightback from the Hunter.

Al-Attiyah topped the Prologue on Monday, but it was Al Rajhi who took the early lead of the event after winning the opening stage, a 236-mile loop around the rally’s base in Córdoba, by just over two minutes. Al-Attiyah encountered a small suspension issue with his Hunter but was able to minimize the time loss to Al Rajhi by finishing second on the stage ahead of Toyota’s Lucas Moraes.

Benefitting from a more favorable road position for the 262-mile stretch from Córdoba to San Juan, Moraes made amends for an “amateur mistake” on the Prologue where he hit a wall and ripped a substantial piece off the rear of his Toyota, by winning stage two following a long battle with Al-Attiyah and Al Rajhi.

“Wow, what a fight with Nasser and Yazeed, those guys are…fast!” Moraes said afterwards. “We managed to keep it clean, it was really tricky on the navigation part so my navigator Armand [Monleon] did an amazing job.”

While Moraes and Monleon stayed in the podium positions, the start to the rally was far less satisfying for the pair’s Toyota team-mate Seth Quintero, who hit trouble on the very first stage.

Quintero and navigator Dennis Zenz got stuck on a cliff when trying to pass the X Rally Hunter of Christian Baumgart on the opening stage, losing a whopping 25 minutes and ruling the TGR pairing out of the hunt for overall victory.

The GR DKR Hilux T1+ driver explained: “I got stuck behind some guys for a really long time, and then I ended up getting around one of them and we were about to get the second one but got stuck in his dust and couldn’t get him to move over.

“Then we came up over a little rise, actually really slow, and there were some spectators on the left and a cliff on the right; I was kind of squeezing it left to get out of the dust a little bit and didn’t want to hit the spectators so I jolted right and dropped the front-right off the cliff which was no big deal, but the right-rear slid in and we got stuck.”

The American did, however, showcase his potential by winning the third stage of the rally, beating Al Rajhi and Al-Attiyah by over two minutes, only to hit strife once more on stage four as a broken damper forced him to stop multiple times.

Al Rajhi maintained his lead after that third stage, during which Al-Attiyah was fortunate to only drop two seconds despite a blocked exhaust and a couple of punctures.


Toyota driver Moraes made up for his “amateur mistake” on the South American prologue

Unlike the previous two stages, which were run on predominantly gravel tracks, stage four was a mix of gravel and dunes, and the 256-mile test from San Juan to La Rioja was where Al-Attiyah took over three minutes out of Al Rajhi and thought he had taken the overall lead ahead of the final 135-mile stretch back to Córdoba.

A seat belt infringement at the end of the previous day’s stage meant Al-Attiyah and Boulanger were handed a one-minute penalty by the FIA stewards, leaving Al Rajhi out front by just 13s. The Overdrive Racing crew’s stage five success built that into a 40s win.

With Quintero already suffering mechanical issues on his TGR Hilux, team-mate Moraes was also in the wars, as an oil leak turned into complete suspension failure which dropped him from third to sixth in the overall standings. That elevated Halpern and Graue to third place, with Denis Krotov just off the podium in another Overdrive Racing Toyota.

Moraes and Monleon finished a frustrated fifth, while the winner of the Challenger class, Rokas Baciuška, was sixth overall. Quintero ended up 11th. Second in the Challengers was Argentinian crew Nicolas Cavigliasso in his Taurus with Dania Akeel and Stéphane Duplé rounding out the top three.


Big southern hemisphere winter skies and an even bigger South American landscape greeted W2RC crews in Argentina