Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Nasser Al-Attiyah’s free agency continues, though current focus remains on Toyota

Nasser Al-Attiyah‘s plans for the 2024 Dakar Rally are uncertain, but his current goal is to close out his decorated stint at Toyota with a successful Desafío Ruta 40. Well, assuming he leaves.

While reports have stated Al-Attiyah is expected to race for Prodrive starting with the 2023 Rallye du Maroc, where he will likely clinch his second straight World Rally-Raid Championship, he has yet to officially sign a deal with the outfit as he remains under contract with Toyota until September.

Toyota is keen on retaining the five-time Dakar champion, and Al-Attiyah has noted that he is in negotiations with both his current Toyota Gazoo Racing team as well as their subsidiary Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa. TGR is mainly operated by the parent Toyota Motor Corporation, while TGRSA is among a handful of regional programmes with their own degree of autonomy as they are run by SVR Hallspeed.

Prodrive remains one of his main suitors, with whom he would partner up with W2RC rival Sébastien Loeb at Bahrain Raid Xtreme, as well as M-Sport. BRX fields the Prodrive Hunter for Loeb, but is skipping the DR 40 to prepare for Morocco and Dakar. M-Sport, a newcomer to rally raid with their Ford Ranger T1+ developed in conjunction with Ford Performance and Neil Woolridge Motorsport, made their début at last weekend’s Baja Aragón with Nani Roma and Gareth Woolridge; the duo respectively finished sixth and eleventh overall while Al-Attiyah won for the sixth time.

After his Aragón victory, Al-Attiyah revealed it would be “the last race for me with Toyota in Baja,” though the door remains open for the Japanese manufacturer to keep him around if they agree to an extension.

“I’m still negotiating with different teams, and still I am a Toyota driver. Maybe Toyota also comes with a good offer,” Al-Attiyah explained. “I can stay if there is no different option. This is the life. Always, we try to to get better and better, and also my dream is to always win the race.

“I’ve worked with Toyota long time, seven years, six times World Cup and one times World Champion, three Dakar. This is really a good thing what I did with Toyota, and also Toyota did a good job. If it does not happen to continue with Toyota, we try to find another challenge.”

If nothing else, it is at least a certainty that Al-Attiyah will be in a T1 car, though that did not stop him from testing an MCE-5 T3M owned by Wevers Sport on Sunday. The T3M competes in the T3 category for Light Prototype SSVs.

He described the car as “fantastic. The T3 was an amazing car and really nice machine. I think for young drivers and new generation, it be much better for them. I know everyone’s dream is to be in T1+; this is wrong to jump immediately. I think you need to win and you need to compete in T3 and then you can, step by step, but this is a good machine for start.”

Should he head for greener pastures, his final race for Toyota will begin in Argentina on 28 August and run through 1 September, the latter being the day his contract expires.