Saturday, March 2, 2024

Pierre-Louis Loubet to dabble in rally raid, entering 2024 Africa Eco Race

World Rally Championship competitor Pierre-Louis Loubet will dip his feet into the world of rally raid for the first time when he enters the Africa Eco Race. He will race the new Apache APH-01 hybrid side-by-side vehicle with François Borsotto as his co-driver.

“[This is] a whole new experience for me, for the whole team,” said Loubet. “I’m super happy to be with the start of this project with lots of highly motivated people with lots of new ideas. The idea of a rally raid hybrid is going to be a whole new challenge. We have plenty of things to prove.

“We hope to have a great first event and that this will allow us to move forward together for a great adventure.”

Loubet won the 2019 WRC-2 championship in a two-win campaign, but had already been competing sporadically in the premier WRC since 2015. He committed to a limited slate in the WRC in 2020 and 2021 with Hyundai before joining M-Sport Ford for the 2022 season onwards.

He ran nearly the entire Rally1 calendar in 2023 for M-Sport before being replaced by Adrien Formeaux for the season finale in Japan, which the team hoped would give him time to re-evaluate and refine himself over the offseason prior to 2024. Loubet ended the season twelfth in points with a best finish of sixth in Sweden and Estonia.

While Loubet’s AER entry is not connected to M-Sport, the team has their own rally raid programme which will field the Ford Ranger at the 2024 Dakar Rally—which begins a week after the Africa Eco Race—for Nani Roma and Gareth Woolridge. The Africa Eco Race follows the same route as the Dakar Rally during its original run from Europe to Senegal.

Borsotto is a Dakar Rally veteran who most recently ran the 2023 edition as the navigator for the MD Optimus of Ludovic Gherardi, which finished twentieth in the T1 class. He won the 2019 Africa Eco Race in an Optimus piloted by Jean-Pierre Strugo.

Besides Loubet, Apache Automotive will also field an APH-01 for fellow rally raid newcomer Gautier Paulin. Paulin hails from the motocross realm as a five-time Motocross des Nations winner and longtime FIM Motocross World Championship rider.

The APH-01 is a hybrid operating on both a Peugeot ICE and electric motor along with biofuels. Revealed in June, it made its competition début at the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas’ Baja Portalegre 500 in October with Mathieu Serradori, though was not classified in the results as it was technically a non-championship entry. While the APH-01 will not race the Dakar Rally as Apache focuses on the AER, it is eligible for the World Rally-Raid Championship’s T3.U category for electric Challenger (T3) cars.

The 2024 Africa Eco Race begins in Monaco on 30 December 2023 and runs through 14 January.