Despite Russian uncertainty, SNAG Racing hopeful for Dakar 2023

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Credit: Sergei Kariakin

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine now in its fourth month and the 2023 Dakar Rally six away, Russian teams hoping to take part in the legendary rally raid are likely fearing otherwise. In spite of the doubt, SNAG Racing owner Sergei Kariakin is optimistic about fielding two entries in the race, reaffirming his intent to compete under his nation’s flag.

On his team’s Telegram channel, a fan inquired about sponsorship and if SNAG would show up with just one team, to which another speculated about the likelihood of even being permitted to race. When a third pointed out host country Saudi Arabia’s ties to Russia—the former did not condemn the invasion and instead maintains economic friendliness as a fellow oil industry superpower—might give the outfit a chance, Kariakin vouched for them and stressed the desire to compete with his Russian nationality rather than a neutral flag, a penalty imposed by the FIA and FIM following the invasion. He also noted that if allowed at Dakar, the team only plans to run said race and not the full World Rally-Raid Championship.

“[W]e hope that it will be possible to take part in Dakar this year under the flag of Russia, but as part of only Dakar and not the World Cup,” reads a translation of one of Kariakin’s comments (“World Cup” is the name of the W2RC’s predecessor World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies but has been used colloquially to describe the current championship).

A user asked, “And if you can’t race under the Russian flag, will you go anyway?”

Kariakin: “Haven’t discussed this yet.”

As the war in Ukraine continues, global sanctions took their toll on Russian sports as foreign sponsors pulled their funding. KAMAZ-master, longtime king of the Dakar Rally’s Truck category and whose parent company manufactures vehicles for the Russian military, was forced to sell off some of its trucks and increasingly rely on domestic production, the long-term feasibility of which is not yet known, to build new ones. Russian drivers competing internationally either switched to neutral banners or lost their 2022 rides, as was the case for Formula One racer Nikita Mazepin who has since joined SNAG Racing.

Mazepin will formally make his off-road début at the Silk Way Rally on 6–16 July, driving the #215 Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR in the T3 category with Kariakin as his team-mate in the #207. The Silk Way Rally, previously a round on the World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, is independent of FIA oversight and therefore not impacted by the sanctioning body’s rules barring Russia from hosting international events.

While the FIA and FIM have not specified the fates of teams from Russia and affected ally Belarus wishing to race at Dakar, one can assume they will simply continue with insignias not of their countries. Various Russian organisations already use the Russian Automobile Federation flag when racing elsewhere in the wake of the state’s Olympic doping scandal. However, despite the aforementioned relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia, skepticism about being allowed entry at all remains; Belarusian truck operation MAZ-Sportauto was reportedly prohibited from racing in the 2022 Rally, under the threat of its equipment being seized by customs, due to European Union sanctions preceding the invasion.

Kariakin won the 2017 Dakar Rally Quad category before moving to the SSV in 2019. He has two stage wins since the switch in 2019 and 2021, while his Dakar 2022 ended on Stage #7 due to a crash with Light Prototype Marco Carrara.

The 2023 Dakar Rally, the fourth to be held in Saudi Arabia, will run from 31 December 2022 to 15 January 2023.

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Justin is neither a NASCAR nor off-road racer, but he has covered them for The Checkered Flag since 2018.
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