Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Pau Navarro on T1.1 vs. T1+: “We had a touch of reality when Nasser passed me”

The Rallye du Maroc marked Pau Navarro‘s first race in the top T1 category after contesting much of the calendar in the production side-by-side vehicle class of T4. Although a massive leap as drivers typically progress from T4 to T3 before making the jump to T1, it did not take long for the teenager to get adapted to unusual surroundings as he led the T1.1 subcategory following the opening stage.

It also did not take long for him to realise the sheer power that his new rivals possessed, especially in the T1+ subdivision.

His Toyota Hilux is prepared by his T4 outfit FN Speed Team for T1.1 competition. By comparison, the Hilux T1+ like those fielded by Toyota Gazoo Racing and Overdrive Racing have technical advantages such as larger wheels at 37 inches (93.98 cm) to T1.1’s 32 inches (81.28 cm), a larger tread width of 320 millimetres versus 245 mm, and 350 mm of suspension travel instead of 280 mm. While the untrained eye might not see much difference between a T1+ and T1.1, the performance disparity enables the former to outclass the other as well as the adjacent T1.2 on most days.

Navarro got to witness this firsthand during Stage #1 of the Rallye du Maroc on Saturday. He finished the leg seventeenth in T1 and beat the seven other T1.1 entries, though his time was 31-and-a-half minutes behind stage winner Nasser Al-Attiyah. Al-Attiyah, who races a T1+ for TGR and clinched the World Rally-Raid Championship on Sunday, started the stage six cars after Navarro after a mechanical problems set him back in the Prologue but quickly blasted by him once on track.

“We had a touch of reality when Nasser passed me, leaving a dust that I had never seen before,” said Navarro. “The heart tells you to accelerate to follow him but the head stops you because we would have spun or punctured the tyres. The car that Nasser and other T1+ drivers drive has more suspension travel and goes at a much faster pace, skidding even on rocky terrain. In the dunes, we lost about five minutes because we were going with (tyre) pressures that were too high for the sand. We were happy with today’s pace although we know we can go faster.”

He failed to finish Stage #2 due to a broken driveshaft but will continue the race. Navarro’s main goal for Morocco is to gain as much experience in the T1 for future events like the Dakar Rally.

T1+ and its electric/hybrid T1.U counterpart are touted as the highest echelons in rally raid, though the developmental nature of the latter allows T1+ to reign supreme in the meantime. All four marques registered for the W2RC manufacturer’s championship are T1+ brands, with Toyota clinching the title before the final race while other makers include Prodrive with its Hunter, the Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus, and BAIC ORV.

Although there is more parity between T1+ and other classes in Cross-Country Bajas due to those races being shorter and on narrower roads compared to the wide-open deserts as seen in the W2RC, T1+ still maintains the edge in most regards. Portuguese Cross-Country Championship driver Nuno Madeira, who races a Ford Ranger T1.1, stated in September that his class appeared to be neglected by the FIA and was more like a “middle ground” between T3 and T1+. To mitigate their dominance, the Spanish Cross-Country Rally Championship created a separate category for T1+ entries for 2024.

At the Dakar Rally in January, T1+ cars finished in nine of the top ten overall positions with Wei Han’s SMG HW2021 T1.2 crashing the party in ninth, while Daniel Schröder’s Nissan Navara VK50 was the top T1.1 in twenty-eighth. T1.2 is for prototype 4×2 vehicles, while T1.1 and T1+ are 4×4.