Monday, May 27, 2024

Nikita Mazepin doubtful on rally raid in 2023

Nikita Mazepin appeared to have found a new home in Russian rally raid after being booted from Formula One, but he doesn’t plan to defend his Silk Way Rally victory in 2023. In an interview with Match TV, Mazepin explained he will likely be too busy in the summer to pursue any rally raid events like the Silk Way, with his priority being on running the “We Compete As One” foundation.

“My plan for the summer is to work in the direction of the fund, to develop it,” he explained. “We have very good results for the year, I am proud of them. Unfortunately, I think that this year, I won’t be able to perform at the Silk Way; I won’t be able to spend two weeks. But I am always open to cooperation, maybe Sergei Kariakin will get in touch and we will decide something, but I do not plan to go to the Silk Way yet.”

The foundation was created by Mazepin in March 2022 as a means to support Russian athletes barred from competing in international events in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Such services include counseling and legal advice, while also maintaining a scholarship programme and assisting in finding jobs. The foundation’s name is a shot at Formula One’s “We Race As One” initiative, which promotes social inclusion and diversity in the sport.

Mazepin had been scheduled to run his second season in F1 in 2022 before the invasion led to his release from Haas F1 Team. He and his father Dmitry, who runs Haas’ title sponsor Uralkali during his stint there, were subsequently sanctioned by the European Union due to the family’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The FIA implemented a policy mandating Russian and Belarusian competitors needed to condemn the invasion and agree to not use their countries’ emblems. While Mazepin did not explicitly reject the rule like various colleagues, instead opting for a “neutral” stance of taking no action, his racing was consequently restricted to within Russia.

While he has attempted to get back into F1, which included going as far as to take legal action against Haas, he spent the rest of 2022 trying his hand at rally raid. A longtime fan of the discipline, he joined SNAG Racing run by Kariakin, quad winner at the 2017 Dakar Rally, and won the SSV class at the Silk Way Rally. Mazepin has expressed interest at racing Dakar himself someday, though his plans for 2023 and the uncertainty surrounding his nationality suggest that might not happen anytime soon.

SNAG Racing’s team gear at the Silk Way sported “We Compete As One” as a reference to Mazepin’s charity.

Even with off-road out of the picture, Mazepin was able to find a seat in international competition in February when he entered the four-round Asian Le Mans Series in the UAE in February. Sharing an Oreca 07 with Neel Jani at 99 Racing, the duo placed fourth in the LMP2 drivers’ championship with two podiums and a runner-up in the final race. Due to the FIA’s ban, he raced without a country affiliation; ironically, he had already been doing that in F1 in response to sanctions following Russia’s state-sponsored doping scandal.

“If it’s possible to do it again abroad, I will do it with pleasure,” Mazepin commented.

The 2023 Silk Way Rally is scheduled for 7–15 July.

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