Friday, July 19, 2024

Croatian Rally star Juraj Sebalj to make Dakar debut in 2024

Juraj Šebalj is the king of the Croatian Rally Championship, having won the title nine times including seven in a row in the 2010s and the 2022 edition. In 2024, he will see if his rally skills can translate to the deserts of Saudi Arabia when he enters the Dakar Classic.

Šebalj won four times in 2022 to clinch his ninth domestic rally crown. His first came in 2007, followed by dominating from 2010 through 2016. After coming up short in 2017, he slugged through a pair of winless seasons before regaining his footing in 2020.

For 2023, Šebalj scaled back to a limited slate. He retired from the season-opening Quattro River Rally before winning the Croatian Rally Championship side of the Zagreb Delta Rally in June by finishing second overall.

He is a three-time winner of the Croatia Rally, going back-to-back in 2004 and 2005 and adding his third in 2014. Šebalj is the last Croatian driver to win the race, which has been a leg on the World Rally Championship since 2021.

In 2003, he competed in the Junior World Rally Championship for the first time at the Monte Carlo Rally, finishing sixth among JWRC competitors and twenty-second including the main WRC, followed by retiring from the Rally of Turkey. He returned to Monte Carlo three years later and placed twenty-eighth overall and seventh in the N4 category.

He also has a pair of Central European Zone Rally Championship titles in the Production Car class in 2014 and 2015.

While not competing in the main Dakar Rally, Šebalj will be the first Croat to appear there since Daniel Šaškin in 2019, who finished thirty-fifth and fourth in class in his Can-Am Maverick. Unlike the Dakar Rally, the Dakar Classic is a navigation-based event.

The FIA and Amaury Sport Organisation began sending out acceptance letters for Dakar Classic applicants on Monday. The FIM will start doing the same for bike and quad riders on 20 July.

The 2024 Dakar Rally and Classic begin on 5 January.