Mucho Gusto, FIA! Toyota Wins Sonora Rally-Raid in Northern Mexico
The FIA minted a new series last year, the World Rally-Raid Championship. Entrants follow paper route books across unmarked wilderness, with no GPS allowed. This year it made the Sonora Rally part of the series.
The Sonora Rally has been held for nine years so far, in the wild sand dunes and trackless desert of the Sonoran state in Northern Mexico.
Five-time Dakar winner Nasser Al-Attiyah won in a Toyota Hilux.
Qatari racer Nasser Al-Attiyah, who has won the Dakar Rally five times in addition to numerous other off-road racing victories, added to his resume last week with a win in the Sonora Rally in Northern Mexico. Al-Attiyah and co-driver/navigator Mathieu Baumel of France won the six-day FIA Rally Raid in a Toyota Gazoo Racing DKR Hilux truck, after rivals Sebastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin crashed out on day three.
“Feeling good,” Al-Attiyah said at the finish. “I am happy to win the Sonora Rally. We have an amazing week and a good lead now. This was very important for the championship.”
Nine-time World Rally Championship driver Loeb and co-driver Lurquin were ahead at the start but came upon an unseen sharp turn that sent them straight into a ditch fairly hard. The impact damaged their vehicle but broke the shoulder of Lurquin, and the pair had to drop out of the event.
This is the ninth year of the Sonora Rally, where competitors must navigate using only maps, route book, and compass. No GPS or other modern conveniences are allowed. This is the first year the rally has been part of the newly formed FIA World Rally-Raid Championship, a series that is in only its second year.
Sonora was the third leg of the six-race 2023 W2RC championship, with Dakar being first and with the rest of the calendar filled out by races in the Middle East and South America and the finale in Morocco.
Al-Attiyah and Baumel were in a race version of the four-door Toyota Hilux, powered by what is essentially the same 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 found in the Lexus LS 500. The race engine setup in the Toyota used the stock turbos, intercoolers and other stock components found in the Lexus. It’s not all stock—the race engine is behind the two seats for a mid-mounted layout. Toyota GR DKR Hilux T1+s finished 1,3,4, and 5 in Dakar earlier this year and 1,2, and 5 at Sonora.
Race-prepped Mini Coopers finished Sonora in third and fourth places. There were even teams from China.
China’s Guoyu Zhang teamed up with Spaniard Oriol Mena to finish sixth in the first of two BAIC ORV Team BJ40s in his Méxican debut. Mena said: “I took some Chinese lessons before coming here just to learn a few words. That helps him a little and we improve our communications. It’s nice for him to hear some Chinese words.”
The all-Chinese crew of Yunliang Zi and He Sha were classified in 13th overall and 12th of the registered crews in the second of the BAIC ORV Team cars.
Al-Attiyah’s winning time was 10:29.55 seconds, more than six minutes ahead of teammates Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Timo Gottshalk. Al-Attiyah leads the series with 136 points, Al-Rajhi is second with 106, and Loeb is third with 101.
On two wheels it was Australian Daniel Sanders who triumphed in Mexico, riding a Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing bike, followed by fellow Aussie Toby Price on a Red Bull KTM, and Argentine Husqvarna factory rider Luciano Benavides in third.
American Honda rider Ricky Brabec, who won Dakar only a couple years ago, did not get on the podium this year at Sonora but was nonetheless happy.
“We made it to the finish of another Sonora Rally. This year was a little bit hectic with the FIA/FIM Championship being here, but it’s always a good time in Sonora. Always a good time in Mexico. [I] enjoyed every single day. Unfortunately, we ran into several issues on Day One—and Two—which bummed me out a bit. We couldn’t get on the podium, but like I said, it’s another fun week in Mexico and looking forward to the next Sonora Rally.”
The rally started in the North-Central Mexico city of Hermosillo, looping out from there into the desert twice the first day before heading north up the Sea of Cortez to the oceanside resort town of Puerto Penasco. From there the course looped three times out into the trackless Altar Desert, a place you have to see to believe, with vast sand dunes rolling east over the horizon.
The 2023 FIA W2RC championship season started in January from a new base in Yanbu on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast with the Dakar, then moved to Abu Dhabi for the towering sand dunes of the Desert Challenge, before arriving in northern Mexico for the Sonora Rally, which concluded April 28. It heads next to Argentina for the second new event on the series calendar and fourth of 2023—the Desafio/Ruta 40 at the end of August/early September, which uses desert stages and remote terrain adjacent to the country’s Ruta Nacional 40. The season finishes in Morocco at the Rally Maroc.