Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah & Edouard Boulanger win W2RC Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah & Edouard Boulanger win W2RC Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah put the recent Dakar disappointment firmly to the back of his mind when he teamed up with Frenchman Edouard Boulanger for the first time to secure a fourth career victory on the demanding Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, round two of the 2024 FIA World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC).


In so doing, and despite losing chunks of time when he became stuck in the sand dunes on stage three, the Qatari recorded his second victory at the wheel of his Nasser Racing by Prodrive Hunter and leapt into contention to challenge for both the W2RC Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ titles this year. Boulanger had won the event for the first time with French legend Stéphane Peterhansel and Team Audi Sport in 2022.


Al-Attiyah, who now holds second in the Drivers’ Championship behind Carlos Sainz, said: “It was a nice rally and we enjoyed it a lot. It was a good win. Now we can fight for the title. Still, we have three races and we try to do our best. Thanks to Edouard (Boulanger), he did a fantastic job.”


Boulanger added: “It was clearly a good week discovering Nasser and a new team and this car. Everything went well. We got stuck two times but that is part of the game. I really appreciate the time spent with Nasser. As always, we know he is amazing as a driver when he is pushing in the dunes. This week, we had confirmation of that again.”


Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Seth Quintero and co-driver Dennis Zenz shadowed Al-Attiyah to the finish to amass a crucial haul of points towards the W2RC’s Ultimate category. The American won one stage in his Toyota GR DKR Hilux through the towering dunes of the UAE’s Western Region but a 15-minute time penalty for missing a route waypoint pushed Quintero down to third overall behind Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi and his German co-driver Timo Gottschalk in the final standings.


Their performances also strengthened Toyota Gazoo Racing’s quest to retain the W2RC’s Manufacturers’ Championship. They now lead Nasser Racing by Prodrive by 31 points and Al-Rajhi and Quintero move up to fifth and eighth in the Drivers’ Championship.


Al-Rajhi said: “We finished. This was a good result. It was not an easy race and we didn’t want to take any risks. There were a lot of problems for a lot of people but we picked up a lot of points. We will now target to push and attack at the next race in Spain and Portugal.”


Quintero added: “The last stage was a scary one, for sure. We knew we had the podium and didn’t want to lose it so we took it easy today. This was our second race with the Toyota and we are proud to be on the podium.”


The rate of attrition was high in the dunes of the Rub Al-Khali and it meant that the two Can-Am Factory Team Maverick X3s of Austin Jones and Rokas Baciuška finished fourth and fifth overall and dominated the Challenger category (see below).


Marcos Baumgart and Kleber Cincea are registered for W2RC Manufacturers’ points with Nasser Racing by Prodrive and the Brazilian duo guided their Hunter to sixth overall.


The SSV category-winning local driver Mansour Al-Helai was seventh, Saudi rival Yasir Seaidan finished eighth and the sole X-Raid Mini JCW Team Rally Plus finished ninth in the hands of young Spaniard Pau Navarro and his veteran German co-driver Andreas Schulz. Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Saood Variawa and François Cazalet rounded off the top 10.


Day four accounted for Overdrive Racing’s fourth-placed Guerlain Chicherit and his team-mate and early pace-setter Juan Cruz Yacopini and their respective co-drivers Alex Winocq and Daniel Oliveras. Chicherit, winner of the event in 2009, fell into a hole between sand dunes 20km from the finish of the stage and Winocq complained of back pain. The Frenchman drove to the stage finish without his co-driver but retired after the stage, although he holds third place in the W2RC Drivers’ Championship.


“We could really not finish,” said Chicherit. “Near the end, we had one jump bigger than the other and, on the landing, Alex pinched something on his back. He was really complaining, so we had to stop and call the helicopters to pick him up. I think it’s an amazing rally and it’s extremely difficult in some parts. Sometimes you get luck, sometimes you get bad luck!”


Yacopini had been involved in a collision with rival Martin Prokop on stage three and was later deemed to have received outside assistance to repair his car in a bid to make it to the stage finish. As per the regulations, the Argentine, who had crashed earlier in the stage as well, was disqualified by the Stewards before the start of stage four.


Early season W2RC pace-setters Guillaume de Mévius and Xavier Panseri had finished second at the Dakar Rally and were second quickest on the opening stage. But the Belgian requested immediate medical attention after his Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux dropped into a big hole in the sand dunes after 24km of stage two. The resultant checks diagnosed a compressed vertebrae in the middle of his back and the Belgian withdrew from the event immediately but was released from hospital the following day. He slips to fourth in the Drivers’ Championship.


Toyota Gazoo Racing lost Lucas Moraes and Armand Monleón at the end of the third stage. The duo were running strongly in third overall until the car caught fire within sight of the stage finish. They managed to record a stage time but were forced to evacuate the car before it was destroyed by the blaze. Moraes was able to keep the stage points he had earned on the first two stages and is now classified in sixth in the points’ standings.


Moraes said: “The third stage for us was great until it wasn’t! We were going very fast, leading the stage and the race overall, because Nasser had some issues, and got stuck. We were putting the hammer down until 5km from the end. I didn’t see a funnel in the dunes and we lost four or five minutes there. We finished the stage and then, suddenly, the car was on fire. Now we just focus on Portugal and come back stronger..”


The 2018 event winner Martin Prokop recovered from a broken shock absorber on stage two to bring the Orlen Jipocar Ford Raptor RS Cross-Country to the finish in 21st overall. His cause wasn’t helped by a collision in the dunes with Yacopini’s Toyota that cost him considerable time, although he and co-driver Viktor Chytka recovered strongly to set the third quickest time on SS4 and he was second on the final stage. The Czech now holds seventh in the Drivers’ Championship.


Can-Am Factory Team’s Jones and Baciuška dominate Challenger category

The Can-Am Factory Team pairings of Austin Jones/Oriol Mena and Rokas Baciuška/Oriol Vidal dominated the Challenger category in their Maverick X3s. They traded stage times throughout the five gruelling stages in the UAE’s Empty Quarter and Jones came out on top by just 4min 38sec.


With the series-leading Mitch Guthrie absent from the event, the result enabled Baciuška to move into a 14-point lead over his team-mate Jones after two rounds. Jones’s title challenge was boosted with additional points for three stage wins. 


Jones said: “We came away with a win and I’m really happy about that. A big shout out to Oriol (Mena) stepping in at the last minute and we killed it. We were on it. The team did a great job prepping the car. We came away with three stage wins and the win in the class. It can’t really get a lot better than that.”


The South Racing Can-Am Team’s Hernan Garces and Juan Pablo Latrach came home in third place and 11th in the general classification but are not registered for the W2RC. Saudi female driver Dania Akeel (Taurus) and Brazilian Maurizio Tiglia Gastaldi (Can-Am) finished fourth and fifth and Germany’s Annett Quandt rounded off the top six in her X-Raid Yamaha-supported YXZ 1000 RSS.


Gastaldi now holds fifth in the Challenger points’ standings, a mere two points behind Nicolas Cavigliasso, who came home seventh overall in his Wevers Sport Taurus.


Cristina Gutiérrez had won the Challenger category at the Dakar Rally and won the Prologue and two stages in Abu Dhabi. The Taurus T3 Max driver finished 10th in the Challenger section as a result of serious delays early in the event but she is not registered for the W2RC.


Privateer Al-Helai tops SSV category; Yasir Seaidan extends his series lead

Talented UAE driver Mansour Al-Helai teamed up with the experienced desert fox Khalid Al-Kendi to win the Prologue, three stages, the SSV category and finish seventh overall in his R-X Sport Can-Am. However, the Emirati is not registered for the W2RC and that meant second-placed Saudi Yasir Seaidan was able to extend his lead in the category to 59 points in the absence of closest rival Sara Price.


Al-Helai said: “What a wonderful week it was. We have done a great job. We won the SSV category, seventh overall, it’s an amazing performance for us with the limited resources we have. I haven’t driven since last year but my level is still high.”


Seaidan, driving the Race World Team Can-Am with his French co-driver Michael Metge, finished eighth overall and just 2min 42sec behind Al-Helai after winning two of the five stages.


The FN Speed Team’s Sebastian Guayasamin moved up to second in the championship standings by rounding off the SSV podium places with co-driver Fernando Acosta. Rebecca Busi picked up valuable SSV points for finishing fourth in her Only Fans Racing Can-Am and the Italian Extreme Plus duo of Michele Cinotto and Maurizio Dominella were fifth in a Polaris. Veteran Frenchman Claude Fournier came home in seventh.


The Can-Am Factory Team’s Joāo Ferreira and Filipe Palmeiro started strongly but were forced to stop on the second stage to repair a mechanical issue. They were then reported to have received outside assistance from team mechanics after using a satellite phone in the car in the stage and these actions were deemed to have breached two articles of the FIA Cross-Country Supplementary Regulations. The crew was duly disqualified from the event by the Stewards. Ferreira slipped to fourth in the W2RC SSV standings as a result of scoring no points in Abu Dhabi.


Founded by FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem way back in 1991, the event was held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in Al-Dhafra Region, and was organised by the Emirates Motorsports Organisation (EMSO).


Presented by the Abu Dhabi Sports Council and with the support of energy partner ADNOC Distribution, the event attracted further backing from Al-Futtaim Toyota, Abu Dhabi Aviation, Al-Ain Water and governmental support from the Ministry of Defence and UAE Armed Forces, Abu Dhabi Police, Civil Defence, Abu Dhabi Distribution Co., Al-Dhafra Region Municipality and Abu Dhabi Sports TV.


Action in the FIA World Rally-Raid Championship resumes with the BP Ultimate Rally-Raid in Portugal and Spain on April 2nd-7th.


2024 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge  – final result:

1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Edouard Boulanger (FRA) Prodrive Hunter                         16hr 20min 09sec

2. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Toyota Hilux Overdrive                               16hr 36min 34sec

3. Seth Quintero (USA)/Dennis Zenz (DEU) Toyota GR DKR Hilux                                              16hr 47min 55sec

4. Austin Jones (USA)/Oriol Mena (ESP) Can-Am Maverick X3                                                   17hr 10min 50sec

5. Rokas Baciuška (LTU)/Oriol Vidal (ESP) Can-Am Maverick X3                                                17hr 15min 28sec

6. Marcos Baumgart (BRA)/Kleber Cincea (BRA) Prodrive Hunter                                             17hr 34min 39sec

7. Mansour Al-Helai (ARE)/Khalid Al-Kendi (ARE) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR               17hr 42min 37sec*

8. Yasir Seaidan (SAU)/Michael Metge (FRA) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR                       17hr 45min 19sec

9. Pau Navarro (ESP)/Andreas Schulz (DEU) Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus                   17hr 47min 11sec

10. Saood Variawa (ZAF)/François Cazalet (FRA) Toyota GR DKR Hilux                                    17hr 49min 58sec

11. Hernan Garces (CHL)/Juan Pablo Latrach (CHL) Can-Am Maverick XR3                             17hr 57min 02sec*

12. Sebastian Guayasamin (ARG/Fernando Acosta (ARG) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR 18hr 18min 49sec

13. Aliyyah Koloc (SYC)/Sébastien Delaunay (FRA) Red-Lined Revo+                                        18hr 31min 05sec

14. Denis Krotov (KGZ)/Konstantin Zhiltsov (ISR) Toyota Hilux Overdrive                               18hr 47min 17sec

15. Dania Akeel (SAU)/Stéphane Duplé (FRA) Taurus T3 Max                                                    18hr 58min 4sec

16. Rebecca Busi (ITA)/Sergio Lafuente (URY) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR                     19hr 11min 52sec

17. Marcelo Tiglia Gastaldi (BRA)/Carlos Sachs (BRA) Taurus T3 Max                                       20hr 18min 15sec

18. Michele Cinotto (ITA)/Maurizio Dominella (ITA) Polaris RZR Pro R                                     20hr 40min 12sec

19. Justas Grendelis (LTU)/Simonas Ramanauskas (LTU) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR 21hr 29min 0-6sec*

20. Annett Quandt (DEU)/Annie Seel (SWE) Yamaha YXZ 1000 RSS                                          21hr 38min 16sec*

*denotes not registered for W2RC

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