World Rally-Raid Championship

CFMOTO Thunder Racing Team skipping Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge amidst Red Sea shipping crisis

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Credit: Fernando Marmolejo/ASO

CFMOTO Thunder Racing Team will not race the 2024 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge due to concerns stemming from the ongoing attacks by the Houthis on international shipping in the Red Sea and Suez Canal.

The Quad team had planned to run four of five dates on the 2024 World Rally-Raid Championship starting with the Dakar Rally; Abu Dhabi, scheduled for 25 February to 2 March, is the second round of the schedule. Team manager Antanas Kanopkinas will race the CFMOTO CFORCE 1000 in the Quad class at Dakar, their maiden start in the event. Formed in 2019, they began entering W2RC races in 2023 that included a third-place finish by Adomas Gančierius on début at the ADDC.

In November, as the war between Israel and Hamas escalated, the Houthis began launching raids and drone strikes on civilian cargo ships, one of which was successfully hijacked, in the Red Sea. The Houthis are a Yemeni rebel movement aligned with Hamas and also fighting the current Yemeni government backed by Dakar Rally and ADDC host countries Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. The attacks prompted an eight-nation coalition led by the United States to commence Operation Prosperity Guardian to protect shipping.

In the meantime, commerce in the region has been greatly disrupted as many shipping companies have suspended operations there. Over 100 ships elected to bypass the Suez Canal, which directly connects the Red and Mediterranean Seas via Egypt, in favour of going around the African continent through the Cape of Good Hope. While a safer route, it adds over six thousand nautical miles and creates significant delays.

The Suez route is used by most teams heading to the UAE for the ADDC. Although the race is not until February, Kanopkinas explained a decision on whether CFMOTO committed had to come early due to tight scheduling.

“On Thursday, we had to prepare equipment for loading onto the ship, and the day before I received news about the current situation,” said Kanopkinas. “One option was to take a risk and hope for the best, but the risk here had a very clear financial expression, which our team did not foresee, and with the available budget we simply cannot afford to take such a risk. There is a possibility to send quads by air transport, but this also increases our expenses significantly.

“In this sport, you need to be able to react quickly and decisively. This can be applied both when driving on the track and when making strategic team decisions. It’s no secret that the race in Abu Dhabi was one of the most awaited by all team members, but new countries and an adjusted calendar seem no less exciting and interesting.”

With Abu Dhabi out of the picture, the team instead plans to race the Hellas Rally Raid in Greece, which will run from 27 May to 1 June. CFMOTO is also considering entering rounds of the FIM Bajas World Cup.

The war in Gaza has already heavily impacted the rally world since its start in October. The Jordan Baja, the final round of the 2023 World Cup, was cancelled as the host nation directly borders Israel, while brewing political tensions and safety concerns related to the war prompted the ASO to ban national flags from vehicles at the 2024 Dakar Rally.

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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