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RRP : the leaders under pressure

With only seven days to go until the BP Ultimate Rally Raid Portugal, the entry list for round three of the season has been released by the Automóvel Club de Portugal (ACP). 58 vehicles entered in the W2RC category are awaited in Grândola, out of a total of 151 FIM/FIA machines. 30 W2RC drivers are on the FIM lists, and 28 W2RC crews are on the FIA lists.
In the RallyGP motorbike category, Ross Branch (Hero MotoSports), overall leader since the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, will be up against Dakar winner Ricky Brabec (Monster Energy Honda), second overall, just 12 points adrift. Sebastian Buhler, the second Hero rider, will be back. The other four HRC riders will be in action.
In Rally2, Jean-Loup Lepan (Duust Rally), leader since the previous round, has a slim six-point advantage over Romain Dumontier (Dumontier Racing), second overall. Konrad Dabrowski (Duust Rally), winner of the category in Abu Dhabi, is third overall. In the quad category, Dakar winner Manuel Andújar still leads the general classification by two points from Hani Alnoumesi.
In the car category, Carlos Sainz created a surprise. The overall leader, winner of the Dakar with Audi, will be behind the wheel of an X-raid Mini JCW. Nasser Al Attiyah (Nasser Racing by Prodrive), his direct Ultimate rival, is nine points behind. Guerlain Chicherit and Guillaume de Mevius (Overdrive Racing) trail the Qatari by a mere five points.
In the Challenger class, the duel between Can-Am Factory drivers Rokas Baciuška and Austin Jones is set to continue. Winner of the previous round, the American is second overall behind the Lithuanian. In the SSV class, Yasir Seaidan (BBR) is the only leader with a comfortable lead over Sebastián Guayasamin (FN Speed).
After the administrative and technical checks, the list of competitors authorised to take the start will be issued on 2 April. Over the next five days of racing, 1,758 kilometres, spread over five stages, including 1,008 kilometres of special stages, will be covered.

BP Ultimate Rally-Raid Portugal 2024 - Teaser

Second, in the RallyGP category at the finish of the Dakar and the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, Hero rider Ross Branch sits atop the general classification thanks to the consistency he has demonstrated in the first two rallies of the season. Just before taking off for the round that will mark the season's halfway point, the Botswanan has 50 points on the board. In Portugal, "Kalahari Ferrari" will find the Monster Energy Honda squadron that surrounded him during the two weeks of racing last January. First and foremost is Ricky Brabec, the winner in Yanbu, who has since scored 38 points. The American is only 12 points in the rears. The Californian enjoys the open desert but won't be in his favourite environment on the tracks that await him. However, the HRC veteran, who has won two Dakars (2020-24) since joining the Japanese outfit in 2015, will be flanked by the team's four latest recruits. Two have already won on Iberian soil. Pablo Quintanilla, who arrived in 2021, won the Andalucía Rally that year in his debut outing aboard the CRF Rally. The Chilean is sixth in the championship with 17 points. Recruited the following season, Adrien Van Beveren won the W2RC season finale in Andalusia in 2022. Third in the Dakar last January, the Frenchman is fourth overall on 24 points and can catch up to the leading duo. Skyler Howes, who has been with the team since the 2023 season finale, crashed out of the two rallies he has contested with Honda. The second American is aiming for a first result with the Red Armada. Tosha Schareina, the youngest rider in Ruben Faria's team, also missed out on the last Dakar, crashing out on stage 1. The Spaniard will be keen to repeat his performances of 2023, especially as stage 4 will take place entirely in Spain. Hero MotoSports will have just two riders to defend its lead in the manufacturers' classification against the five Hondas. Sebastian Buhler will be back after his crash on the Dakar. This return will have a special significance for the German-born factory Hero rider as he has spent most of his life in Portugal. The Indian brand has 75 points to Honda's 62. Seven RallyGP entries have been received for round three. In Rally2, the category is also awaiting seven experienced riders. Like Ross Branch, Jean-Loup Lepan is the leader after two rounds, thanks to his consistency. Third W2RC Rally2 rider in Yanbu and runner-up in early March in Abu Dhabi, the Frenchman is on 44 points. That's just 6 points ahead of compatriot Romain Dumontier, the category's reigning number one, who scored 38 points on the Dakar. First in Rally2 and a superb second overall on the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, Konrad Dabrowski is third in the championship with 36 points. The Pole is only two points back of 'Dudu'. After two rounds, the Rally2 top three are separated by eight points! Bradley Cox (BAS World KTM Racing), who finished between Dumontier and Lepan on the Dakar, has 30 points. Jan Brabec (Strojent Racing) is fifth with 25 points, Mathieu Dovèze (BAS World KTM Racing) is seventh with 17 points, and Sébastien Herbet (Dumontier Racing) will also be in action. Manuel Andújar tops the quad category classification with 38 points, thanks to his Dakar victory. The leader has a scant four-point advantage over Hani Alnoumesi, second in Abu Dhabi. With 34 points, the Saudi is in striking distance of the Argentine. But with a margin of just 10 points over fifth in the general classification Juraj Varga, Alnoumesi will have to acclimatise quickly to the European tracks if he is not to be outdone by the continental riders. The Slovak has solid W2RC experience. As does Kamil Wisniewski, who retired after a crash in the Emirates round. In the general classification, the Pole is less of a threat as he has yet to score any points in the championship, but he could cost the Saudi rider some points if he slips in between the two. Like CFMoto riders Antanas Kanopkinas (17 pts) and Gaetan Martinez, the Lithuanian and the Frenchman are regulars on European rally tracks. Bolivian Suany Martínez is the seventh W2RC quad rider to be confirmed. Portugal will be the first round of the Rally3 calendar which, like last year, will be contested over the final three rounds of the season. Nine riders will be competing on enduro bikes tuned with larger fuel tanks and rally-raid-specific navigation instrumentation.

Surprise...surprise! Carlos Sainz will be behind the wheel of a Mini JCW Rally Plus from the X-raid team run by Sven Quandt, who was in charge of the Audi Sport programme at the last Dakar. "El Matador" will, therefore, concentrate 100% on defending his lead in the drivers' classification, as he won't score points in the Manufacturers' classification for Audi. Toyota (108 pts) dominates the classification ahead of Nasser Racing by Prodrive (76 pts). While the Japanese brand is ahead of its British counterpart in the drivers' classification, the two-time reigning world champion (67 pts) is hot on the heels of Carlos Sainz (76 pts). After retiring from the Dakar, Nasser Al Attiyah set things right again in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, which he won with his new co-driver Edouard Boulanger, narrowing the gap to the Spaniard to nine points. Incidents in the dunes by 'Fall Guys' Guillaume de Mevius and Guerlain Chicherit forced the Overdrive Racing teammates to throw in the towel in round two. The stage points earned before their misadventures, added to their remarkable second and third-place finishes behind Sainz in the Dakar W2RC classification, put them just behind the Qatari. The Frenchman is third overall (64 pts) and the Belgian fourth (62 pts). Only five points separate Nasser Al Attiyah's second place from Guillaume de Mevius' fourth. And the provisional Top 4 after two rounds are all within 14 points. The Ultimate category has never been so tight heading into the second half of the championship since the creation of the W2RC! Alex Winocq, Guerlain Chicherit's regular co-driver, is not ready to return for the Portuguese round. Mathieu Baumel, the two-time reigning world champion, will take his place next to "The Fall Guy. The pair know each other well, having made their Dakar debut together in 2005. Chicherit will thus have the Hilux and navigator that made Al Attiyah a success until 2023. Yazeed Al Rajhi, second on the ADDC after retiring from the Dakar, will also be at home on the WRC-type tracks. The Saudi, fifth overall (51 pts), is 11 points behind fourth-placed Guillaume de Mevius and 25 points behind the leader, but that's nothing unsurmountable. The three new TGR recruits, Lucas Moraes, Seth Quintero and Saood Variawa, will also be in the mix, as will Overdrive Racing regulars Denis Krotov, Juan Cruz Yacopini, Eugenio Amos, Lionel Baud, and female racer Aliyyah Koloc (Buggyra ZM Racing). Under the Prodrive awning, the Marcos brothers and Cristian Baumgart (X-Rally Motorsport) will again be present, with the Brazilians' performances reinforcing those of Nasser Al Attiyah for the Prodrive brand. The icing on the cake in the X-raid clan is Joao Ferreira, the official Can-Am SSV driver for the first two rounds of the season, who will be doing a stint in Ultimate alongside Carlos Sainz. It's a case of déjà vu, as the Portuguese driver pocketed the FIA Baja World Cup in 2022 when he took Baja Portalegre victory in a Mini X-raid. Last year, the driver from Leiria won this race again, this time with the Mini JCW Rally Plus. Sixteen Ultimate W2RC cars should battle in Grândola. In the Challenger category, the competition is divided into two matches between the seven crews expected to participate, with one battle for supremacy of the classification and the other for a place on the podium. In both cases, the battle is tight. The two Can-Am Factory drivers are taking centre stage. Two-time SSV title winner Rokas Baciuška has not only taken up the challenge of the class of the same name this season but has also set his sights on a third consecutive crown in his first year in the category. The Lithuanian is on course to do it thanks to his two second-place finishes in the W2RC classification in the opening two rounds. His consistency has seen him dominate the general classification with 114 points compared to 100 points for teammate Austin Jones. The American won in Abu Dhabi by just a few minutes but finished behind Baciuška in Yanbu. Behind the two factory Can-Ams, Nicolás Cavigliasso, the leader of the Taurus brand enlisted by the Wevers team, is battling with Marcelo Gastaldi, also in a Taurus, but for the BBR team. The Argentinean has 79 points to the Brazilian's 77, with two points separating them! With 51 points, Dania Akeel (BBR) is just behind them. Local racers Ricardo Porem (MMP) and Mario Franco (Franco Sport) could improve on their current positions of seventh (32 pts) and eighth (20 pts), respectively.
In the SSV category, of the five crews expected to compete in the championship, Yasir Seaidan has achieved a clean sheet since 5 January, with 146 points. Sebastián Guayasamin is his main rival. The Ecuadorian, with 87 points, needs to close the gap on the Saudi quickly. With 45 points, Rebecca Busi (Onlyfans Racing) can hope to regain third place in the championship. But the Italian must also be wary of the return of Spaniard Ricardo Ramilo (Escuderia Ramilo), who must catch up on 38 points. Claude Fournier (MMP), world number one in SSVs in 2017, is back this season in the category where he enjoyed his first successes. The Frenchman will draw on his experience at the 24H TT in Portugal, which he won just last year in this same category.    

The programme
Portugal : UTC + 00 :00

  • 30-31 March: bivouac opening
  • 1 April: administrative checks and technical pre-checks
  • 2 April :

- administrative checks and technical pre-checks
- general and stage 1 briefing
- press conference
- start ceremony

  • 3 April :

- prologue in Grândola (SS: 5 km)
- starting order selection ceremony  
- stage 1 part 1 (SS: 148 km)
- stage 1 part 2 (SS: 3 km)

  • 4 April : stape 2 (SS : 230 km)
  • 5 April : stape 3 (SS : 613 km)
  • 6 April : stape 4 (SS : 550 km)
  • 7 April :

- stape 5 (SS : 171 km)
- closing press conference
- prize-giving ceremony


© BP Ultimate Rally-Raid Portugal