Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Mathieu Baumel: “[Nasser and I] had no real long-term certainties with Toyota”

Nasser Al-Attiyah is the biggest free agent in the rally raid market today, and any team fortunate enough to get his services for the 2024 Dakar Rally onwards will also receive a quality navigator in Mathieu Baumel. Speaking to Auto Hebdo, Baumel revealed he and his driver decided to test the market with the hope of landing somewhere that would provide them with a competitive and stable ride.

“Our choice is explained by the fact that we had no real long-term certainties with Toyota,” Baumel explained. “I think the Hilux is obviously still very capable of fighting for victory at Dakar 2024, but that did not guarantee us the continuation of what I want to do with Nasser.”

Their current contract with Toyota Gazoo Racing expires on 31 August concurrent with the Desafío Ruta 40, which is set to be their final start for TGR barring an extension and ends the next day. Al-Attiyah had declared after last weekend’s Baja España Aragón that it would be his final Baja as a TGR driver, though later clarified that he remains focused on clinching the World Rally-Raid Championship with them in the meantime.

Besides a potential return to TGR, Al-Attiyah has also received offers from the adjacent Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa, Prodrive, and M-Sport. Multiple reports have stated Al-Attiyah will join Prodrive for the Rallye du Maroc in October followed by Dakar.

Although TGR is the top outfit in the W2RC today, their advantage over the field has weathered over time. Prodrive, the next closest team to them, has been inconsistent in terms of reliability but otherwise displays impressive pace with Sébastien Loeb and is set to partner with Dacia for the 2025 Dakar Rally onwards. M-Sport and their Ford Ranger T1+ are new faces who made their début in Aragón.

Besides job security, money can also determine how committed an outfit is to a driver. According to DH Les Sports, Loeb is set to be paid roughly €2 million by Dacia, more than double what Al-Attiyah receives from Toyota; Loeb had been in talks with Toyota but they were unable to satisfy his high asking price.

Even if the divorce goes through, Baumel and Al-Attiyah would certainly leave Toyota with a legacy unlike any other. The duo won the Dakar Rally thrice in 2019, 2022, and 2023, the inaugural W2RC in 2022, and its predecessor FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies in 2015, 2017, and 2021.

“We are full of motivation and are ready to take on new challenges,” Baumel concluded.

Should they leave, their Toyota tenure will end with the Desafío Ruta 40 on 28 August through 1 September. The Rallye du Maroc, which would be their maiden start for a new team, is scheduled for 13–18 October and will be the final race of the W2RC season. Al-Attiyah leads both the W2RC and FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas standings, though the latter’s upcoming race in Poland clashes with the DR 40; the next Baja, held in Portugal, will be on 26–28 October.

The 2024 Dakar Rally begins on 5 January.