A crack force of Red Bull Desert Wings has descended on northern Italy for a high intensity weekend of offroad racing as the FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup season continues to up the pace. Among the highlights at this year’s Italian Baja will be reigning World Cup champions Nasser Al-Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel defending their title and 12-time Dakar Rally winner Stéphane Peterhansel taking on a fresh challenge.
Qatari Nasser and Frenchman Mathieu were in unbeatable form during last year’s World Cup and victory at the 2015 Italian Baja brought them a step closer to sealing the championship. The duo will be out to taste success once again in northern Italy as they look to claim the World Cup for a second successive year. Since switching to a Toyota Hilux following the conclusion of the Dakar earlier this year the defending champs have proven they still have the golden touch with wins at both the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and the Sealine Cross-Country Rally. Now they look to continue this remarkable run of results at one of the most technically challenging and unpredictable races on the calendar.
Nasser and Mathieu’s closest rivals Yazeed Al-Rajhi of Saudi Arabia and Vladimir Vasilyev of Russia are also making the trip to Italy along with Dakar regulars Marek Dabrowski and co-driver Jacek Czachor. The Polish crew take control of their own Toyota Hilux with ambitions of securing a podium finish.
While Polish pair Marek and Jacek have completed over 20 editions of the Dakar between them, at the other end of the experience table we have American offroad superstar Bryce Menzies. In his first ever cross-country rally Bryce took 4th place at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge earlier this year. The three-time SCORE Baja 500 champion has clearly taken little time to adapt to the new discipline and, alongside experienced navigator Tom Colsoul of Belgium, will be out to impress once again in his MINI.
Meanwhile, Stéphane will compete alongside his wife Andrea Mayer at the Italian Baja. The couple will be side-by-side in a Yamaha YXZ 1000 buggy as they set out to master the 400 kilometres of demanding gravel tracks and riverbeds.
Since their marriage last year Stéphane and Andrea have been looking for the ultimate honeymoon adventure and this search has taken the Pordenone region of Italy. The Frenchman’s own sparkling rallying career needs little introduction having won the Dakar six times in both the bike and car categories. His German bride however also has fantastic offroad pedigree, having completed the Dakar eight times. Andrea has not only matched her husband in finishing the Dakar on a bike and in a car, but has even mastered the course in a truck.
Stéphane Peterhansel: “I’ve done this race two times with a motorcycle and also raced in a car before. I like coming back because it’s always a cool atmosphere when you race in Italy. It’s a short race, just 400km split over two days, and I’m doing it just for fun and to enjoy the atmosphere.
“It will be the first time that I change my co-driver since I have been racing on four wheels, before this I have always been with Jean-Paul (Cottret). My wife’s role will be as navigator, to read the roadbook and inform me about the route ahead. Maybe I will drive a little bit safer than normal because I really wouldn’t like to crash with my wife.