Monday, April 15, 2024

Anja van Loon entering Rallye du Maroc, first race for all-female crew

The Rallye du Maroc is typically used as a last dry run in competitive conditions for those planning to race the Dakar Rally, and Anja van Loon will take full advantage of that when October arrives.

Any practice she can get for Dakar 2024 is imperative as it will be her first time at the race in a truck, driving an IVECO PowerStar for Team de Rooy. Furthermore, it will mark her first rally with her all-female crew as Floor Maten and Suzanne Peek respectively serve as her co-driver and mechanic.

Van Loon made her Dakar début in 2023, driving a Can-Am Maverick in the T3 class and finishing fourteenth overall. The effort came alongside her husband Erik van Loon, who drove in T1 only for his final Dakar Rally to end with a crash. Erik is close friends with Team de Rooy owner and twice Dakar truck champion Gerard de Rooy, hence his operation providing a ride for her; Team de Rooy won the 2023 Dakar Rally in T5 for trucks.

The Morocco Desert Challenge in April, of no relation to the Rallye du Maroc save for being in the same country, was her first time racing a truck. Maten was unavailable as she was working in an organisational position with the MDC, so van Loon instead worked with her brother Ben van de Laar and Peek; van de Laar and his brother Jan finished seventh in T5 at Dakar 2023. In Morocco, van Loon finished fifth in class in what she called “a good truck début for me.”

While SSVs and trucks are different types of vehicles, van Loon still frequently races the former to gain as much track experience as she can. This weekend, she and Erik will race Can-Ams at the Italian Baja, a leg of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas, with Maten finally able to join her.

“A disadvantage of the truck is that there are fewer test races in which you can participate,” van Loon explained. “I drove the buggy every weekend, now I can only test (the truck) twice for the Dakar. That’s why I also drive some extra races in the buggy. That extra experience is a nice bonus in January. The next test race, in October 2023, will also be the only race I drive with my full team.”

Van Loon, Maten, and Peek will be the second women-only team to race a truck at Dakar. In 2004, Véronique Jacquot finished twenty-ninth in class alongside Géraldine Brucy and Uta Baier.

“I think the mechanics still had to get used to the idea of a rally cabin full of women,” she said with a laugh.

The 2023 Rallye du Maroc will take place on 13–18 October, while the 2024 Dakar Rally begins on 5 January.