Monday, May 27, 2024

Dacia to enter Dakar Rally in 2025 with Loeb, Gutierrez

Renault is heading back to the Dakar Rally for the first time since 2018, though under a different brand. On Monday, Dacia announced it will compete at the 2025 Dakar Rally with Sébastien Loeb and Cristina Gutiérrez in T1+ cars, making their début at the 2024 Rallye du Maroc before heading to Saudi Arabia for the main race. Prodrive will provide technical support.

Dacia formerly raced at Dakar from 2013 to 2018 as Emiliano Spataro drove a Dacia Duster with a best overall finish of fourteenth in 2014. Although Renault’s backing for Spataro was relatively limited, it marked the French manufacturer’s first involvement with the race in over a decade after winning back-to-back titles with Jean-Louis Schlesser in a buggy in 1999 and 2000. Renault’s first Dakar win was in 1982 with Claude Marreau driving a Renault 20.

Renault originally intended to race with Lada but dropped those plans after selling its stake in the marque following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ladas are still present at Dakar via the Dakar Classic, though their last action in the main rally was in the 1980s.

“Not only is this a test of Dacia’s true robustness, it is a showing of our commitment to low-carbon mobility,” said Dacia CEO Denis Le Vot. “We are very excited to take part in Dakar with synthetic fuel technology. Dacia, alongside the best team and drivers in the game, are serious contenders for the rally.”

While Dacia did not immediately announce which specific vehicle will take part, reports have indicated they are considering the Dacia Manifesto. The Manifesto is an AWD electric SUV unveiled in 2022, featuring an open-air design such as a lack of windows and doors to better “connect” the occupants with nature. While it is a concept vehicle with no intention of selling for customer use, the company and Dakar organiser Amaury Sport Organisation’s mutual interest in environmental friendliness aligns with the car’s intended purpose. The car will also rely on a synthetic test fuel produced by Aramco.

Loeb and Gutiérrez reunite as team-mates after spending two years together in Extreme E at X44 Vida Carbon Racing. They won the 2022 championship before Loeb left in 2023 after X44 ended their partnership with Prodrive, and have since become one-off rivals for this weekend’s Island X Prix as Loeb joins ABT CUPRA XE on an interim basis; ironically, he is filling in for reigning Dakar winner Nasser Al-Attiyah.

Although Loeb is more known as a nine-time World Rally Champion, he is also one of the top World Rally-Raid Championship drivers today. He ran his first Dakar in 2016 with Peugeot and has consistently finished in podium range over the next six tries. Loeb joined Bahrain Raid Xtreme, who had a technical alliance with Prodrive and fields the Prodrive Hunter, in 2021 before pursuing the W2RC in 2022 onwards, finishing second in the latter year’s Dakar Rally and W2RC. Although early stage retirements knocked the team out of overall contention in the 2023 Dakar, Loeb won seven stages and a record six consecutive to settle for second. He currently sits third in the W2RC after crashing out of the Sonora Rally in April.

Prodrive’s move to Dacia comes amid reports that BRX had lost the financial aid of Mumtalakat Holding Company, the Kingdom of Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund and the team’s main bankroller. Although Prodrive is able to run the 2023 Rallye du Maroc and 2024 Dakar Rally, they are expected to skip the Desafío Ruta 40 in August even if it virtually eliminates Loeb from the W2RC.

Gutiérrez is one of the top female rally raid competitors, having won the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies in the T3 category to become the first woman champion of an international rally raid series. After the World Cup reformed into the W2RC for 2022, she kicked off that era by notching her maiden podium at Dakar in third. Racing for Red Bull Can-Am Factory Racing, she finished third in that year’s T3 points battle.

Three races into the 2023 season, Gutiérrez is tied for fourth in the T3 points with defending champion and Red Bull colleague Francisco López Contardo with another third at Dakar. She has competed in the Dakar Rally every year since 2017.