Sonora Rally Channeled It’s Inner Dakar for One of the Racers’ Favorite Stages
Every stage just seems to best itself at the Sonora Rally, and Stage Three was no exception. Many pilots compared the caliber of this special to one at Dakar, offering everything a top-level performer expects from a rally. To start, the roadbook was quite accurate and offered enough active notes to keep navigators on their toes. The terrain itself felt alive, ready to pounce at any moment on an unsuspecting prey. Between the dunes and the arroyos, there was enough sand to fill up children’s playgrounds across Mexico. And none of it was stable. Nothing was meant to support the weight of a hundred purpose-built racing machines all day long. And it was certainly a long one… Earth just gave in to each tire that climbed over her fragile surface. And yet that still wasn’t the end of the obstacles. Aside from the quintessential/run of the mill bad guy on-course (yourself) and the competitors out there trying to find the finish line, the elements were also really against you. Dry heat feels better on the lungs than a humid version, but the reality is that it dehydrates you faster. And the cruelty of wind cools you down temporarily, but it robs you of your sweat – the body’s natural air conditioning.
But when everything falls into place. The timing, the navigation, the terrain, your mindset, the last, and most cruel, of all factors is fate. Those unpredictable moments which lead you to the podium or send you home. Several teams suffered misfortunes in SS3, the most famous of them likely being Sebastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin’s (#200, Prodrive) who crashed over a blind crest heading into the largest arroyo of the day. Ultimately, Loeb came out unscathed and Lurquin with a fractured shoulder, but that was plenty enough reason to take #200 not only out of the race but out of contention for the W2RC (at least for now). This put Yazeed Al Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk (#202, Overdrive Racing, T1+) at the head of the pack at Sonora and in a great place to become a World Champion. FIM however seemed better off today overall. The difficulties they faced were the same as the autos, but perhaps because it felt so much like a “world championship” special, it was more tranquil regarding acute incidents or catastrophic events. We’d already lost some favorites yesterday, so it was a relief to see most of the pro motos come back in one piece.
“That was a difficult start to the day with the accident that Seb and Fabian had, eventually retiring from the rally while leading the championship. The GCK crew had a solid day with good pace to finish inside the top 5 in difficult conditions, while the X Rally cars once more learnt a great deal in conditions that they’re not used to and are very happy with the progress they’ve made.” – Gus Beteli, Team Principal, Bahrain Raid Xtreme
The National classes, however, did not fare quite as well. Mechanical issues terrorized several riders, with batteries going mysteriously low, fuel injectors failing, electrical gremlins wreaking havoc and a laundry list of problems even Murphy would Find unreasonable/unlawful. In other instances, fuel became a balancing act that many weren’t prepared for in the dunes and on the loose ground. If racers weren’t running out of gas – likely from pushing their vehicles to the limit all day – then they were wobbling down the course with heavy gas tanks filled to the brim with enough petrol to handle Problem A. But which was absolutely a factor to Problem B. Suffice it to say, the modest dunes section became a khaki-colored slip ‘n slide, but without all the fun.
Even so, with a late start to boot, the race was a spectacle to witness firsthand and a bit shocking to hear about. And while these difficulties haunted many riders, it didn’t afflict them all. After the first two bikes took off, there was a delay at the start for half an hour to clear up Loeb’s wreckage which lay very near the course. Then the rest of the Nationals were sent on their way. Brendan Crow (#513), who began SS3 in third position, was hauling it on-course. Like a Police Sheppard, trained to chase down criminals on the run, anxiously tugging on his leash until – finally – the keeper lets go. Crow’s bike flew like Superman after his adversaries, with their temporary 30-minute advantage, as if he was trying to save the world. One of the Diespro riders had passed him early on and was unwittingly added to a list of perpetrators. Matt Sutherland also looked strong at the halfway point of the race, better yet, it seems like his dream of wearing the Finisher Medal may finally be realized, and thensome as he keeps firm grasp on his lead in Malle Moto all the way to the end. Young contender, Ryan Narino (#505) riding Jonah Street’s former 2011 Yamaha WR450F on which the American had raced Dakar Rally and won a stage. Apparently, Narino found this bike by chance in Illinois and jumped on the opportunity to channel Street at rally-raids. Perhaps the Dakar vet has left some of his good luck on the Yamaha because Ryan maintained a respectable rhythm.
The section near the Sea of Cortez, however, much like yesterday’s route, was notably mesmerizing. Mountains were a constant figure on the horizon. Racers compared this stage in terms of length, complication, and obstacles to the Dakar. It was a long, grueling day. Lots of ruts, deep, loose sand, and plenty of dust (or “polvo” as they say in Mexico). There were even big stones, sharp rocks… Anything you could throw at the competitors, it seemed. Which made for a demanding Special. One which kept some of the Nationals out in the wild after dark, not arriving at the bivouac until after 9pm. Today might have been hard, but it’ll be worse to find out what’s to come on minimal sleep. Let’s hope the Malle Moto guys made good time, or tonight is going to extend the challenges of the day even longer. By the sunset, we had an inkling of the winners, and our suspicions were confirmed by midnight: Ash Thixton (#525, Freedom Rally Racing, Enduro) at the front with a time of 5:24:43. Then came comrade Francisco Alvarez (#526, Freedom Rally Racing) at 5:36:26 and Brendan Crow (#513), finally, with a time of 5:42:40.
“I would call it a perfect day as far as it goes. I finished stage one with 71 speed penalties. Today, I have Zero. I grew up riding in the sand so today felt like a piece of home. Nothing can make me happier than being here flying the Zimbabwe in the Sonora rally.” – Ash Thixton #525, Freedom Rally Racing, National Enduro
Cars endured their fair share of bad luck as well today for many of the same reasons as bikes, for instance, Daniel Gonzalez in ran out of gas near a small ejido but was offered a gallon of gas (a highly valued resource here in the desert) which gave him just enough extra miles to reach a closed checkpoint and be sent to the bivouac by tarmac. This dropped him down the ladder to Fourth, and out of contention entirely with a 1,350-minute penalty. (We’ll see if he contests.) Other guys were just trying to be helpful, like Luis Perocarpi in #602 of the 4WD class, who stopped to give a hand to another racer and in the process, accidentally timed out. He and his co-driver were also sent in the Drive of Shame back to Puerto Peñasco incurring a 52-hour penalty in the process.
On the other hand, plenty of drivers found themselves in the same or better position than they’d been in before. Sara Price and her co-pilot (#605, Price Racing, UTV Pro) held down the fort in First keeping anyone else from joining her in the Winner’s Circle this week. Father-daughter duo Jim and Sienna Price (#608, Price Racing, UTV Pro) – of no relation to Sara – found themselves in a well-deserved Second Place, which at this rate could send them home with a trophy. And that much closer to winning the Sonora Rally, should fate decide to pick on the former Price. Mexican native, Jorge Cano and Abelardo Ruanova (#606, Nat UTV) have also landed on their feet again with the top spot in their class. It’s the third time on the podium so far, and it seems they may like the taste of victory too much to share.
“Today was an awesome day! We had a fast clean day with zero issues and were so proud of this! We have some good momentum and need to just keep it going. I have an incredible team here, Alsup Racing Development working on my Can-Am x3 and couldn’t be more impressed with how our unit is performing.” – Sara Price #605, Price Racing, UTV Pro
We’re finally past the halfway point of the 2023 Sonora Rally, and the third round of the World Rally-Raid Championship. And it wasn’t an easy one. At some point of the longest stage of the event, everyone traveled a very long, deep arroyo with tall sand cavern walls. At times the walls became very narrow as they led down to the water, something you can glimpse in the distance when cresting or dipping with the rolling terrain until sea level. It’s a completely different landscape from yesterday. Not only because of the mounds of sand, but in the lack of structure and form. There are no cacti at all in the wash, just bushes and brush and small prickly things which stick to you like glue. The ground near the arroyo at about 30km in was completely unstable. As if you’re walking on a deteriorating rooftop covering an intricate network of tunnels built by rodents and snakes. At the beginning of this challenge, there’s a complicated turn which can be the difference between holding the lead and ending your day. The tricky entrance to the arroyo is where Sebastien crashed, and the trajectory of this rally shifted course. There’s no doubt there will be words in the bivouac about what obstacles the racers faced today. While other words will just be hotly expressed in social media.
For more info, make your way to https://sonorarally.com/. And to follow along with the race, stay tuned @SonoraRally on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, plus, download the Sportity App for schedule, news updates, press releases, results, and more. Event code: SonoraRally2023
For news from the World Rally-Raid Championship, visit their website: https://www.worldrallyraidchampionship.com/en/. Watch Stage One of the third round of the W2RC here. Media inquiries can email [email protected] for more information or to be added to the press contact list for updates, news, and more.
Ø What goes up must come down, and sometimes upside down, unfortunately especially in rally-raid racing. Today, Sebastien Loeb (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) went off the track at kilometer 12 of the stage and got stuck in a ditch. His co-driver Fabian Lurquin suffered a shoulder injury and was forced to retire at the end of the day, leaving Nasser Al Attiyah free. The winner of the Dakar 2023 was 16 points behind in the championship since the second round in Abu Dhabi. There, the Qatari, who was leading the general standings, rolled over and damaged the roll bar of his Hilux, leading to his forced withdrawal. Tonight, it is a similar fate that his designated rival suffers. The championship could be completely revived at the end of the race… if Nasser Al Attiyah manages to reach the finish of the Sonora Rally in two days.
Ø In a stroke of ill fortune during the Sonora Rally in Mexico, Sébastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin, leaders of the World Rally Raid Championship, experienced a devastating turn of events. As the first car on the course, they hurtled into a blind turn with a treacherous drop into a dry riverbed. Helpless to avoid catastrophe, their car slammed into the ground and tipped onto its side. While Sébastien emerged unscathed, Fabian was rushed to a local hospital for thorough examinations and X-rays. Regrettably, a slight fracture in his right shoulder was discovered, forcing him to withdraw from the rally and leaving Bahrain Raid Xtreme with a heavy heart. Prioritizing the safety of their team members, despite their status as championship leaders, was an agonizing but necessary decision.
Ø The Sonora Rally near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico faced a 30-minute delay before the bikes could start the longest stage. The organization needed to stage the helicopter, causing anticipation among the riders. Daniel Sanders, the previous day’s winner and overall leader, aimed to secure his first rally win in the world championship. Sam Sunderland, the reigning world champion, needed a strong performance to stay in contention.
In the car category, Sébastien Loeb and Nasser Al Attiyah engaged in a fierce rivalry. Loeb claimed the overall lead by a narrow margin, intensifying their battle. Ricky Brabec aimed to make up for lost time despite a penalty, while Toby Price sought a podium finish after a navigation error. Throughout the stage, competitors faced challenges, and Yazeed Al Rajhi showcased an impressive performance. Fabian Lurquin’s injury forced Loeb to withdraw, altering the race dynamics. Daniel Sanders secured another stage victory, extending his lead. With each passing stage, the Sonora Rally demanded focus and determination from the competitors. The pursuit of victory continued as they prepared for the next stages, knowing that every moment counted in their quest for glory.
Ø SS3, Puerto Peñasco to Puerto Peñasco; Liaison > 350 km & Special > 115 km | 59% Sand; 19% Dirt; 12% Tarmac; 2% Dunes; 8% Dry Lakebed
Ø Thursday is the final loop stage of the event, and more importantly, it’s the penultimate special of the Sonora Rally. It introduces more dunes, a pattern we’ll see until the end, and maintains the essence of Dakar with various terrain, complicated navigation, some dunes, long distances and oppressive weather. Starting the Special just south of Caborca, the teams have a two-plus hour liaison before even rolling tires into the timed section. For the top racers, tomorrow is going to be pivotal, so it’s worth staying glued to all the media you can find!
Ø In an eventful National race, two bikes took off from the starting line only to be halted by organizers who needed to clear the route of Loeb’s Prodrive wreckage. After cutting yesterday’s route short, this unexpected delay helped transform Stage Threes into the longest day of the competition, with National participants arriving at the bivouac well into the night. Alongside the diverse and challenging terrain, riders faced a multitude of obstacles such as mechanical issues and the arduous task of navigating through dunes and soft sandy sections with full fuel tanks. Some competitors encountered difficulties by chance, while others faced specific setbacks. Notably, a racer in the 4WD category, #602 Luis Perocarpi, took a timeout to assist someone in need and timed out in the process, while Gavin Ferguson (#540) reported a lack of fuel midway through the stage. But he resumed movement, possibly after receiving fuel from another racer. Meanwhile, Daniel Gonzalez and Jorge Hernandez (#604) found themselves stranded 30 kilometers away from the fuel stop due to an empty tank, and Matt Ransom (#503) experienced a setback due to a low battery on his bike. Both racers, Jorge Escobedo (#527, Freedom Rally Racing) and Camelia Liparoti in #609 riding for Avid UTV and CAT Racing had to withdraw from the competition due to mechanical issues, but despite blowing the motor, her love for the “Burrito” – her Yamaha YXZ1000 – remained unwavering. Finally, Moto Malle rider Vladimir Malyarevich (#514) temporarily stopped due to a mechanical problem but expressed confidence in their ability to continue.
Cristian Baumgart #210, X Rally Motorsports, T1+: “Today was very hot on that stage and that made it hard for us because it’s a new rally with so much for us to learn and take in. There was a great deal of navigation and some dunes for the first time, but I measured the pace and went at the right speed to get through. Tomorrow, I hear there are more dunes so I can up the pace and go a little quicker.”
Ricky Brabec #2, Monster Energy Honda Team, RallyGP: “This year’s rally down south has had its ups and downs. We started out with a great Prologue. Then, it went bad during Stage One when I was snagged by a tree, forcing me into a high-side crash resulting in a broken exhaust and a damaged bike early on that day. Stage Two was good…enough to land me a stage bonus starting position, which led to Stage Three (where the blue was applied). Stage Three has been fun and fast and landed me, again, in 3rd Place, so tomorrow, we’re looking good for more bonus time. Bonus time is definitely a big advantage in this rally, but if you don’t have a shot at taking over the rider in front of you and gaining some minutes on them, then don’t plan on receiving any bonus time. It’s been a rollercoaster, but I wish things were different for us. We will try to come back next year to regain the Sonora Rally title. This place is awesome and looking forward to two more days of action in the desert with the competition.”
Jacob Argubright, #96 DUUST Diverse Racing, Rally2: “Really fun day for me, the desert resembles a lot of what I ride at home, so I’m really comfortable here. I want to focus on trusting the roadbook a bit more and making some bike changes to see if I can close the gap in Rally2 these last two days.”
Guerlain Chicherit #204, GCK Motorsport, T1+: “It was a real proper stage. Really tough and rough and ultimately what we are expecting to get in rally-raid, so it lived up to expectations with these big holes in places, with no warning, where the ground has just collapsed. The cacti are quite something too as if you hit one of them at high speed…it’s a mess. On the stage we had great speed at the beginning, but we had a puncture so stopped to change that but once going again it took 30 kilometers to get back to overtake that same car again. It’s really difficult to become close enough to use the Sentinel (electronic warning drivers are given that someone is trying to pass them), but we were passed and then eventually caught the X Rally car that started six minutes in front of us, but they kindly let us pass. They’re quick, I tell you!”
Daniel Gonzalez #604, Baja-Son Motorsports, UTV Pro: “Stage Two went great! We started Third and finished in second place, Four minutes away from pole with a good lead on third seed overall. Our Polaris Turbo R once again did its job, while Jorge, of course, managed to take us to the finish each day with zero penalties. And Stage Three started out well from second position. We kept a good rhythm, but unfortunately bad gasoline and heavy sandy terrain left us a bit stranded on a trail close to a rancho around 15k from the gas truck. Luckily, a rancher came by and generously offered one gallon of gas. Once we reached Check 1, it was already closed. So, they sent me directly to the Bivouac…Our first penalty was a big one, but that’s racing! Still, we’re looking forward to Stage Four and Five.”
NATIONALS TOP FIVE STAGE RESULTS
**These results are provisional and not final. Please refer to the event’s channels for final results. If you would like to view the Provisional Results for the W2RC, use the Sportity app with codes: FIAsonorarally2023 / FIMsonorarally2023
- #525 Ash Thixton (ZWE), Freedom Rally Racing – 5:24:43
- #526 Francisco Alvarez (COL), Freedom Rally Racing – 5:36:26
- #513 Brendan Crow (USA), Privateer – 5:42:40
- #533 Dwain Barnard (ZAF), Freedom Rally Racing – 6:04:33
- #539 Ben Lauderdale (USA), Diespro Racing – 6:38:34
- #527 Juan Recio (ESP), Freedom Rally Racing
- #532 Ronald Venter (USA), Freedom Rally Racing
- #504 Patrick Reyes (MEX), Privateer
- #524 Sebastian Olarte (USA), Diespro Racing
- #501 Matt Sutherland (AUS), Privateer – 6:20:50
- #542 Paul Mumford (USA), Privateer – 7:51:38
- #508 Matthew Glade (CAN), RMS – 7:52:20
- #521 Benjamin Myers (USA), Privateer –8:19:21
- #510 Hector Guerrero (MEX), Mocedi Racing Team – 9:42:11
MALLE MOTO ADVENTURE
- #528 Ben Howard (USA), Privateer – 27:00:00
- #605 Sara Price (USA) and Jeremy Gray (USA), Price Racing – 5:37:59
- #610 Zach Lumsden (USA) and Shannon Moham (USA), TrophyLite – 6:31:37
- #611 Craig Lumsden (USA) and Andrew Farmer (USA), TrophyLite – 6:35:56
- #604 Daniel Gonzalez Reina (MEX) and Jorge Hernandez Calva (MEX), Baja-Son Motorsports, Polaris Mexico – 22:42:00
- #606 Jorge Cano (MEX) and Abelardo Ruanova (MEX), Privateer – 6:02:29
- #607 Brock Harper (USA) and Steven Geist (USA), Privateer – 6:30:58
- #612 Carlos Castro (MEX) and Carlos Sachs (MEX), BBR – 7:35:30
- #608 Jim Price (USA) and Sienna (USA), Price Racing – 0:00:00
- #609 Camelia Liparoti (ITA) and Tony Albano (USA), Avid UTV/CAT Racing – 63:00:00
- #601 Erick Pucilek (USA) and Mike Shirley (USA), Privateer – 0:00:00
- #602 Luis Perocarpi (USA) and Mark Wells (USA), Privateer – 52:00:00
- #603 Bruce Myrehn (USA) and Dan Fargo (USA), Privateer – 60:30:00