Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Pau Navarro to race Mini JCW Rally Plus for X-raid at 2024 Dakar Rally

Shortly after making his T1 début at the Rallye du Maroc in October, Pau Navarro got to drive a Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus as part of the World Rally-Raid Championship‘s Next Gen Tryouts that let young drivers test cars in the top-level T1+ subcategory. His time in the Mini went so well that X-raid Team has offered him a chance to race one at the 2024 Dakar Rally.

“This team has had several Dakar champions such as Nasser (Al-Attiyah), Nani (Roma), (Carlos) Sainz, and (Stéphane) Peterhansel,” said Navarro. “I am very happy to be able to compete with a team like this and that they have called me to race. We are going to try to give everything we got to achieve a good result in this Dakar.”

Navarro moved up to T1 in Morocco, driving a Toyota Hilux prepared by FN Speed Team. He set the fastest time in the opening stage among T1.1 entries, though he was relegated to a T1 overall finish of twenty-sixth due to a broken driveshaft and punctured tyres. Hours after the final stage, he hopped into the Mini piloted by Krzysztof Hołowczyc for the Next Gen Tryouts.

During the rally, he had been open about how staggering the performance gap between T1.1 and T1+ is, remarking that he had a “touch of reality” when Al-Attiyah overtook him in a Hilux T1+. T1+ cars are significantly faster and larger than their T1.1 counterparts.

He previously competed T4, where he won the 2022 Andalucía Rally before making his Dakar Rally début the following year. Navarro quickly impressed at Dakar as he finished runner-up in Stage #1 to fellow teenager Eryk Goczał before ultimately placing ninth in class. He followed with a third at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

The Mini JCW Rally Plus was introduced for 2023 as X-raid’s challenger in T1+, finishing runner-up to Toyota in the 2023 W2RC manufacturer’s standings; Hołowczyc scored its first victory in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas’ Baja Poland in August. Mini was one of the top manufacturers at Dakar in the 2010s with six wins, including three by Peterhansel with the latest in 2021.

While the car that a driver pilots at the Next Gen Tryouts is not necessarily confirmation of their future landing spot, Navarro and Seth Quintero will both race the vehicles that they tested there. Quintero, the T3 W2RC champion, took part in a Toyota Hilux from Toyota Gazoo Racing and announced his graduation for 2024 hours before Navarro.

The 2024 Dakar Rally begins on 5 January.