The Crusade for Accolades
With a Solid Week of Racing in Mexico Behind Us, There’s Much More than Winner’s to Celebrate
Photos: WESTx1000, Rally Zone, DPPI, FOTOP
Adventure: an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.
In a world of smartphones, unemployment checks and Snuggies, Rally Raid is a call-to-action. It’s a catalyst for the quintessential Hero’s Journey which most of us have only ever read about. To those who read at least. It’s an engine-powered spirit quest to find your voice from within the white noise and a path to help reach your limits only so you can reach a bit further. Competitions like the Sonora Rally are both transparent and opaque. Philosophies are clear. The demand, the rewards, the test of mind, heart, and soul. No one who loves this sport is unfamiliar with punishing oneself for passion. Nor about what it takes to reach the finish. On paper. But it’s not about what you think you know. It’s about what you do. The experience you have. And what you subsequently do with that newfound knowledge. The few true mysteries in rally lie in the conditions, fate, and you. Do you arrive at your arch, defeat the villain, and ride off into the sunset? Or, today, do you let it break you?
Stage Five was unexpected. It could have been in the bag. And yet, those 136 kilometers carried weight. Battling all week long for stellar overall positions, and to secure a coveted free entry this January from Road to Dakar challenge, Matt Sutherland (#501, Malle Moto) and Francisco Alvarez (#526, Freedom Rally Racing, Enduro) played leapfrog on course until the bitter end. Even on the final day, either were well in contention to leave Sonora in Second Place and about 20,000 euro closer to Saudi Arabia Sutherland, who hadn’t finished a Sonora Rally in four years, had his trajectory fixed not only on completing the racing but winning not just one but two National titles: Malle Moto and D2D. Both seemed in the bank when he rolled over the start, but that inevitable twist precipitated new results in the challenge. Onlookers saw him ride through the camel grass into Timing & Scoring with the proverbial golden ticket in-hand. Fast, confident, an impressive performance, nonetheless. But a missed WayPoint charged the Australian a devastating 30-minute penalty and robbed him of a free pass to the Dakar Rally. Alvarez seized the opportunity, albeit unconsciously, to move into the Second overall seat and put the golden ticket in his pocket. But it’s not all tears for Sutherland as he was otherwise the better rider on-track of the Malle Motos.
“It’s my second finish, I finished in 2019 and then I had three bad years: 2020 blew up two motors; in 2021 I shattered my collarbone, and in 2022 I had a [deep] cut and had to pull out of the race. [It’s] pretty good to finally [reach] the finish line; it was a long road. To do it in the Malle Moto class is even better. Pretty happy to be here. The racecourse was probably the toughest [this year] than we’ve had [in the past] because we went after all the FIM bikes and cars. Their tracks made it really tough, but it’s all part of it. – Matthew Sutherland #501, Privateer, Malle Moto
With a sizable penalty added on mid-race there was a little doubt Brendon Crow (#512, National Enduro) would come through triumphant. But a combo of speed and accuracy sifted away the competition, all fears of failure faded away. He didn’t even win the stage, Alvarez snuck through that door. But he didn’t need to with a lead of forty minutes. His first taste of rally took place only months ago at the 2022 Sonora Rally, in its original state, because of his (and everyone’s) buddy Skyler Howes (#10, Husqvarna Factory Racing, RallyGP) who’d brought Crow to Mexico to make sure someone would be pushing him every day. Landing Third behind Howes’ other desert racing wingman, the #513 bike came back with more experience, less reservations, and a vengeance. Unfortunately, Howes crashed out of the first half of the race, but his teammate Luciano Benavides (#77) picked up the slack to end the rally on the third step. Rookie from Spain, Tosha Schareina (#68, Honda Team, RallyGP), put in the work and outshone a list of all-stars to shoot into second seed. Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing has much to celebrate, however, as Daniel Sanders (#18) came to this side of the world with little understanding of the terrain he would tackle or what surprises he might encounter. Yet, the Australian adapted and excelled winning the pro moto category in the third round of the World Rally-Raid Championship in 2023.
“Third last year, first this year in the National class, second rally ever. It was a good time, it was tough, it was a lot different this year than it was last year. Changes with making it W2RC round made it a lot different. We started later in the day, and we started later in general. I had mostly good days and a couple of days that were so-so, but I kept the mistakes and penalties to a minimum. That really helped me out. I did well on this final stage today, everything went well, and I’m really happy with how the week went.” – Brendan Crow, #513, Privateer, National Enduro
The last kilometers were in the bag for Daniel Gonzalez and teammate Jorge Hernandez (#604, Baja-Son Motorsports. UTV Pro) who made the best time over his only real adversary on the stage by a little over ten minutes. Finishing at 1 hour and 45 minutes (and change), newcomers to Sonora, Craig Lumsden and Andrew Farmer (#611, TrophyLite, UTV Pro) made their debut with respectable times during the competition. His son Zach unfortunately DNF’d before he could score on Friday, but he apparently learned a lot, noting that his ego was a factor in mistakes early on. His hopes to end with a trophy, let alone a Finisher’s Medal, were thwarted. And while many felt the same sort of sting, missing the mark after so much effort, some were able to realize their dreams, no less hard-fought. Sara Price (#605, Price Racing, UTV Pro), who has been plotting her Road to Dakar victory for the few years she’s been involved in the sport. Even for off-road pros of her caliber, the overall costs of competing at the Dakar Rally are astronomical. And every little bit of help – like free entry to the race – counts, and thensome. And as the Road to Dakar hasn’t been offered to UTVs every year, Price needs to go big whenever that chance comes to fruition. This year, she hit it out of the park, winning several stages and keeping her hold on the general standings with gorilla strength.
“The day was good. It was a hectic day on the course because obviously we had the Road to Dakar on the line. And it was a very hot day, so we were just keeping the temperatures under control. Overall, we just wanted a consistent race to win the Road to Dakar. I’m so stoked, I’m finally getting to go to Dakar! It was my plan, and we executed it. We have an amazing team and incredible sponsors and people surrounding me to make this all happen. I’m just beyond stoked; I don’t even know what to say.” – Sara Price, #605, Price Racing, UTV Pro
Machines – big, small, fast or less fast – had suffered their fair share of setbacks this week, none which seemed to have more to lose in the contest than Sebastien Loeb (#200, Bahrain Raid Xtreme, T1+) who knocked his car out of the running, giving way to adversaries Yazeed Al Rajhi (#202, Overdrive Racing, T1+) and Sonora Rally victor Nasser Al-Attiyah (#201, Toyota Gazoo Racing, T1+). In the T3 category, our hometown heroes on the Red Bull Junior Factory Team all but swept the rankings with first-timers at the race, Mitch Guthrie Jr. (#302) and Austin “AJ” Jones (#301) at first and third seed. And then T4 pilot, Rokas Baciuska (#400) continuing his roll for Can-Am also standing in the Winner’s Circle when the dust settled. In fact, in some way, all the competitors who dare face the Sonoran landscapes this April deserve credit. They won already by crossing well outside the comfort zone into (wait for it…) the danger zone. And yeah, not everyone crossed the finish line. But surely, every person here who did the grind, who woke up before sunrise, struggled through an obstacle, fought themselves – more than anything else – to just keep going earned their right to be the hero of their story. They journeyed to find their inner beast to slay or be slayed. And it was their bravery here which made them all champions.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill
For more info, make your way to https://sonorarally.com/. To keep in touch with the event, follow them on social media @SonoraRally on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. And watch all the action unfold during the remaining rounds of the World Rally-Raid Championship, visit their website: https://www.