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OVERDRIVE RACING’S AL-RAJHI AND GOTTSCHALK TRIUMPH IN MOROCCO AS AL-ATTIYAH SEALS SECOND W2RC DRIVERS’ TITLE

Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk confirmed the runner-up spots in the FIA World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC) by winning the gruelling six-day Rally of Morocco. Despite stopping in the dunes in the final stage and slipping to 48th overall, Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah did enough earlier in the event with stage points to confirm a second successive W2RC Drivers’ Championship

The Qatari’s co-driver Mathieu Baumel had already won a second Co-drivers’ title and Toyota Gazoo Racing sealed the W2RC Manufacturers’ Championship at the previous round. Toyotas won all five rounds of the W2RC and finished a stunning 1-2-3 in the championship

Overdrive Racing ran seven Hiluxes in North Africa and worked alongside Toyota Gazoo Racing to support Al-Attiyah’s challenge for yet another win in Morocco

Despite winning two stages and leading for three days, Al-Attiyah suffered a delay in the dunes with a transmission issue on stage four and that time loss enabled Al-Rajhi to move into the lead. The Saudi began the final day with a 3min 49sec cushion over Frenchman Stéphane Peterhansel and, when the Frenchman stopped in the dunes after just over 20km, Al-Rajhi was able to push on to the finish, setting the second quickest time on his way to victory by the flattering margin of 34min 17sec

Al-Attiyah’s co-driver Baumel said: “Morocco was not really like on the plan but we started fast and very well for the first three stages. Then we lost too much time on the next two. But we win the World Championship and the second time in a row we are World Champions.”

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Argentine Juan-Cruz Yacopini and his Spanish co-driver Daniel Oliveras confirmed third place in the 2023 W2RC series. When rival Sébastien Loeb crashed on the fourth stage it had also eased the pressure on the Argentinean for the final W2RC podium but Yacopini missed out on a potential second overall when he stopped for around 20 minutes in the last stage and slipped two places to fourth

Denis Krotov and Konstantin Zhiltsov climbed through the field after a cautious start to seal second overall in the third of the Overdrive Racing Toyotas and the Italian duo of Eugenio Amos and Paolo Ceci finished in a fine fifth

A delighted Jean-Marc Fortin, team principal of Overdrive Racing, said: “More than successful. I think we should try to do it again and it will never happen. I tell you, when you win the five W2RC rounds and finish 1-2-3 in the championship. We also win plenty of other races. I think we won 16 since the beginning of 2023. It’s a big thank you to the whole team. They work like mad, we work like mad. Toyota is a strong car and Overdrive is the winning team – unbelievable! I think we write something special in the company history and I’m very happy. We will do a very big party in Europe….”

Guerlain Chicherit entered the Rally of Morocco as the defending champion and he and Alex Winocq were competitive from the outset, fastest overall on sections of some stages and well-placed inside the top six for long periods. However, the Frenchman rolled his Hilux on the penultimate stage and the impact damaged the car’s chassis and forced him to withdraw before the final day

Chicherit said: “I was giving myself the opportunity to try out a new car that I think will perform, so I can keep my options open for 2024 and 2025. I think I’ve shown over the last year that I belong in a top team and a car to win the Dakar.”

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Guillaume de Mevius and François Cazalet joined forces with Overdrive Racing to drive a T1+ Hilux and set some encouraging stage times early on to hold a strong position inside the top 10. Time delays cost the Belgian and the Frenchman time but they recovered strongly to finish in 19th overall. Isidre Esteve Pujol and José-Maria Villalobos brought the seventh Overdrive Toyota home in 20th

The traditional Prologue of 18.35km kick-started the action close to Agadir. Mattias Ekström set the fastest time on a short test where Al-Rajhi, Chicherit and De Mevius came home in third, fourth and seventh but Al-Attiyah suffered a niggling alternator issue and was classified down in 38th, 1min 35sec adrift. Krotov, Yacopini, Amos and Esteve Pujol finished 23rd, 24th, 28th and 42nd

The real meat of the action began with a 311.10km selective section between Agadir and Zagora that included 10km of dunes in the Erg Chegaga and a long liaison section. Al-Attiyah overtook 21 vehicles on his way to the stage win. The Qatari finished 3min 45sec ahead of Al-Rajhi to snatch an overall lead of 2min 19sec. Chicherit was fifth, with Yacopini, Krotov and De Mevius in eighth, ninth and 10th and Amos recording the 16th quickest time

“It was a really long day, 300km liaison, then 300km stage and then 100km liaison,” said Yacopini. “Yesterday, I felt a bit bad with some fever but my body was feeling better.”

Al-Attiyah added: “If anyone could complain about the dust, it would be me! There was a lot of it. We passed 21 cars. After about 200km, things settled down and we made a good speed for the last 100km.”

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Victory on the second stage of 296km that looped around Zagora made mathematically sure that Al-Attiyah secured a second successive W2RC Drivers’ Championship title. The Qatari beat Carlos Sainz by 2min 11sec to the stage win and increased his overall advantage to 5min 31sec over Al-Rajhi, who finished the stage in fourth and picked up just two bonus points

De Mevius, Chicherit and Yacopini completed the day’s action in seventh, eighth and 10th and held eighth, sixth and seventh overall. Krotov was 10th and Amos was 15th, with the Frenchman struggling with the harsh ferocity of the terrain before making driving seat adjustments to make it more comfortable to drive

Al-Rajhi’s co-driver Gottschalk said: “Some proper dunes, proper camel grass and some really bad rocks where we were shaking like hell, head left and right. It was a typical stage in Morocco with everything.”

The second of the Zagora loop stages ran for 333km. Ekström took advantage of a favourable starting position to snatch the win by just six seconds and Al-Attiyah, Al-Rajhi and De Mevius came home in second, fourth and fifth. The result enabled the Qatari to extend his overall lead to 6min 16sec, although Loeb managed to slip in front of Al-Rajhi and grab second. Chicherit, De Mevius and Yacopini held fifth, sixth and seventh overall and Amos was 11th

Al-Attiyah said: “We have a good lead and were second in the stage. Mathieu did a good job with the navigation without any mistakes. We opened all the way and I am happy with the performance.”

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The penultimate stage of 342.96km was dramatic to say the least. Al-Attiyah’s arch rival Loeb appeared to be closing in on the Qatari’s overall advantage before crashing out of contention and then Al-Attiyah stopped just 11km from the finish in the Merzouga dunes and was forced to work on the Toyota’s transmission. As Stephane Peterhansel stormed through to claim the stage win, Yacopini, Krotov, Al-Rajhi and Amos recorded the third, fourth, fifth and sixth quickest times for Overdrive Racing

Chicherit crashed his Hilux, somersaulted twice and the car came to rest on its roof. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, the Toyota’s chassis had been damaged by the impact and he was forced to retire

Al-Attiyah’s issues and Loeb’s accident also meant that Al-Rajhi snatched the outright lead and the Saudi headed into the final day with an advantage of 3min 49sec over Peterhansel. Al-Attiyah eventually finished the stage with the loss of around 1hr 20min and plummeted to ninth in the general classification

The final stage looped through the dunes around Merzouga and ran for 152.49km. After Peterhansel stopped in the dunes after just 28km, Al-Rajhi was able to press on to the finish and the second quickest time gave the Saudi a second W2RC win of the season to add to his success at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

Al-Attiyah ground to a halt with mechanical problems of his own after just six kilometres into the dunes and, after 87km, Yacopini stopped for around 20 minutes and was in danger of losing his final position on the podium. He managed to complete the stage but the time loss pushed the Argentine down two places to fourth, with team-mate Krotov being the main beneficiary on his climb to second overall

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2023 Rally of Morocco – final result (top 15 only): 

1. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 14hr 49min 09sec

2. Denis Krotov (KGZ)/Konstantin Zhiltsov Toyota Hilux Overdrive 15hr 23min 26sec

3. Joan Roma (ESP)/Alex Haro (ESP) Ford Ranger 15hr 32min 12sec*

4. Juan Cruz Yacopini (ARG)/Daniel Oliveras (ESP) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 15hr 46min 17sec

5. Eugenio Amos (ITA)/Paulo Ceci (ITA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 15hr 49min 22sec*

6. Martin Prokop (CZE)/Viktor Chytka (CZE) Ford Raptor RS Cross-Country 15hr 52min 57sec

7. Marcos Baumgart (BRA)/Kleber Cincea (BRA) Prodrive Hunter 15hr 57min 28sec*

8. Marek Goczal (POL)/Maciej Marton (POL) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 16hr 22min 12sec

9. Mattias Ekstrom (SWE)/Emil Bergkvist (SWE) Audi RS Q E-Tron (T1.U) 16hr 34min 23sec

10. Seth Quintero (USA)/Dennis Zenz (DEU) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 16hr 37min 19sec

11. Cristina Gutierrez (ESP)/Juan Pablo Moreno Huete (ESP) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 16hr 43min 01sec

12. Lionel Baud (FRA)/Lucie Baud (FRA) Century CR6 Buggy (T1) 17hr 00min 59sec*

13. Ignacio Casale (CHL)/Alvaro Leon (CHL) Yamaha T3 (T3) 17hr 02min 20sec*

14. Kees Koolen (NLD)/Wouter Rosegaar (NLD) G Rally Team OT3 (T3) 17hr 15min 32sec

15. Dania Akeel (SAU)/Sebastien Delaunay (FRA) Taurus T3 Max (T3) 17hr 18min 48sec

19. Guillaume de Mevius (BEL)/François Cazalet (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 18hr 04min 32sec*

20. Isidre Esteve Pujol (ESP)/Jose-Maria Villalobos (ESP) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 18hr 11min 52sec*

48. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT/Mathieu Baumel (FRA) Toyota GR DKR Hilux 28hr 59min 10sec

Guerlain Chicherit (FRA)/Alex Winocq (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive RETIRED – SS4

*denotes not registered for W2RC

T1+ unless stated

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