Dacia completes initial tests of Dakar car

No major issues for Sandrider during eight days of testing in UK and France

Dacia – The Sandrider Testing Chateau de Lastours – May 2024 (1)

Dacia has undergone the first phase of its testing program as preparation continues ahead of its planned competitive debut in the World Rally-Raid Championship season finale in Morocco in October.

The Sandriders team, which will embark on a full W2RC campaign for at least the next two years, completed a four-day test at Sweet Lamb in Wales at the start of May, before heading to Château de Lastours in France for another four-day test last week.

Specific development focused on the car’s suspension and differential performance on rocky surfaces, with team principal Tiphanie Isnard confirming that the program had “exceeded expectations with very few issues”.

“We have completed a series of initial tests before we go for our first test in a real rally-raid environment in Morocco,” explained Dacia technical director Philip Dunabin.

“So far everything has gone astonishingly smoothly with no serious problems. We’ve managed to sign off all the basic things in terms of the engine, we’ve done quite a lot more work than we expected to do on the suspension set-up and the transmission settings have been reviewed in terms of the differentials.

Dacia - The Sandrider Testing Chateau de Lastours - May 2024 (3)

Sandrider may not see as many clouds in Saudi Arabia as the UK and France

“The suspension had a real good going over not just during the test at Sweet Lamb but very much so in the test at Château de Lastours.”

All three of Dacia’s crews had time behind the wheel of the T1 Ultimate car, which has been built from the ground up using specific design input from the drivers. Cristina Gutiérrez Herrero drove the first two days in Wales before handing over to Sébastien Loeb.

“The testing has gone very well,” said Loeb, who finished second on the 2024 Dakar behind Carlos Sainz in January.

“I did one day in the UK and two days in France. We worked on the suspension and the diff to find a good balance with the car, and I was happy with how it worked.

“The engine was working well since the start, and we didn’t have any problems.”

T1 Ultimate newcomer Gutiérrez Herrero used the Wales test to get accustomed to her new surroundings, having become the first female driver to win the Dakar since Jutta Kleinschmidt when she won the T3 class this year.

Dacia - The Sandriders - Cristina Gutiérrez & Tiphanie Isnard

Gutiérrez Herrero (left) sampled car with which she hopes to emulate Jutta Kleinschmidt's overall Dakar success

“Having the opportunity to see the Dacia Sandrider in action and cover my first kilometers in the car has been incredible,” said Gutiérrez Herrero.

“I am feeling very comfortable, adapting to a new type of car and a new category for me. There are still many important test days ahead, but in general we are super-happy with the work of the team. We cannot ask for more.”

Five-time Dakar winner Nasser Al-Attiyah – the current W2RC points leader – got his first experience with the car in France, completing two days, with Loeb and Gutiérrez Herrero each taking further turns as development ramps up.

“The test in Château de Lastours was the first time for me to jump in the Dacia Sandrider,” said Al-Attiyah.

“I found it easy to drive, fast and strong. We did 270km on the first day and the same on the second day. There were no issues and we enjoyed it a lot. We are in a good way for the next tests, and I can’t wait to get to Morocco.”

Dacia - The Sandriders - Nasser Al-Attiyah

Nasser Al-Attiyah brings a wealth of W2RC and Dakar experience to Dacia

Attention now shifts to an extensive week-long dune-based test in Morocco from June 28 to July 5, which will not only give the team much-needed experience of the terrain for its competitive debut, but also similar conditions to what crews will encounter on the Dakar in Saudi Arabia next January.

While fine tuning and further development will be required before its competitive bow, Dunabin is in confident mood.

“We’ve got a lot of work cleaning up a lot of the details putting the car into a state that is ready to go on a rally,” Dunabin said.

“We managed to highlight one or two problems in terms of the crew’s installation inside the car where we want to make some improvements, and they should also be in place before we do the tests in Morocco. Everything is looking really positive, only a couple of very minor things that we were able to work on quite quickly.

“Now everybody is working flat out preparing everything for Morocco and we are very much looking forward to continuing our Dakar preparations there.”

Words:Stephen Brunsdon