Saturday, July 20, 2024

Nasser Al-Attiyah to depart Toyota after Argentina

After leading Toyota to a World Rally-Raid Championship, three World Cups for Cross-Country Rallies, and a trio of Dakar Rallies, Nasser Al-Attiyah is heading for greener pastures once his contract expires in September. He announced his departure shortly after winning the Baja España Aragón for the sixth time on Saturday.

His final race will be the W2RC’s Desafío Ruta 40, which ends on 1 September on the same day as his contract. Rumours about his future have circulated since May, from which he began contract negotiations with at least two other undisclosed teams while keeping the door open to extending his Toyota stint.

“We have won the Baja Aragón for the sixth time and we are leading the World Rally-Raid Championship and I am very happy,” began Al-Attiyah after his win. “But on the other hand, I am sad because Aragón will be my last Baja with Toyota. Such is life and I wish the team good luck for the future.”

Al-Attiyah joined Toyota Gazoo Racing in 2016, immediately making an impact by winning the Cross-Country World Cup (predecessor to the W2RC). Despite retiring from his first Dakar Rally in a Hilux the following year, he has never finished worse than second overall since with victories in 2019, 2022, and 2023. He also claimed the 2017 and 2021 World Cups and the inaugural W2RC in 2022.

So far in 2023, he leads both the W2RC and the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas. He has two wins in the former at Dakar and the Sonora Rally, whereas the latter campaign has seen triumphs at the Saudi Baja, Qatar International Baja, and Baja Aragón while finishing runner-up in the Italian Baja.

Despite his successes with Toyota, Al-Attiyah is open to joining a developing team to help them grow starting with the W2RC-ending Rallye du Maroc in October. While Toyota is currently at the top of the rally raid world, outfits like Prodrive and newcomer M-Sport Ford are hoping to finally dethrone the Japanese manufacturer.

Prodrive is Toyota’s main rival as they field the Hunter under the Bahrain Raid Xtreme name; while reports of the team losing their financial backing and Prodrive’s incoming Dacia alliance in 2025 have left the Hunter’s future in doubt, it will race one more time at Dakar 2024. Audi, touted as a potential top-level adversary entering 2023, is set to end their Dakar programme after next year, though team manager Sven Quandt has not ruled out continuing the effort under the Q Motorsport banner.