World Rally-Raid Championship

2024 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge: Joao Ferreira, already retired, disqualified as well

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Credit: Bastien Roux/DPPI

After a strong start to the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge when he won the opening stage in the SSV class, João Ferreira was forced to retire from the race on Wednesday. To add insult to injury, the FIA has disqualified him as well for two rule violations while getting help from his team.

While running fifth in class, Ferreira’s Can-Am Maverick slid down a dune eighty kilometres into Stage #2, resulting in damage. Unable to repair the vehicle on their own, his co-driver Filipe Palmeiro called their Can-Am Factory Team to come to the scene and help them. However, Palmeiro used their satellite phone while still inside the car, which broke Article 9.1.3 of the FIA’s Cross-Country Sporting Regulations that states “telephones may only be used from outside the vehicle (while in a Selective Section) and must be switched off at other times.”

The crew eventually arrived to diagnose the problem, which they succeeded using parts that Ferreira and Palmeiro already had in storage on their car. Their presence alone was a violation of Article 49.2.1 stipulating teams cannot be within one kilometre of their race vehicle while it is still in the Selective Section.

Had the technical snag been resolved enough for Ferreira to rejoin the race on Thursday, he would have simply received a time penalty. Since this was not the case and he exited the rally altogether, the FIA deemed disqualification was suitable.

“We fell from a dune and we damaged a lot of the car at the front right. Me and Filipe tried the best we could to fix the car by ourselves, but truth is we were not able to do it alone and the South Racing mechanics helped us to finish the car for us to finish the stage,” said Ferreira on Thursday. “We know the costs of that action and we have been disqualified for that. But we’ll try just to arrive to the finish line to see if for some reason we were able to continue in the race.

“Rules are rules. It’s a shame, of course, after the bad effort, let’s say like that. In the Dakar, we finished P5 and we scored third position for the World Championship. Disqualification was not the ideal thing we wanted, but we have to follow the rules. I just want to say a big thank you to all of you for the amazing support I’ve been receiving since yesterday and wish the best of luck for all the South Racing Can-Am drivers for the rest of the rally.”

He is the third disqualification of the 2024 World Rally-Raid Championship after Challenger drivers Eryk and Michał Goczał were busted for illegal clutches at the season-opening Dakar Rally in January. Eryk had also been leading his category prior to his penalty.

Ferreira is racing his first W2RC campaign in SSV, and entered Abu Dhabi third in its standings after finishing fifth (third among points-earning drivers) at Dakar. He placed second behind Mansour Al-Helei in the ADDC’s Prologue on Monday before winning Stage #1 ahead of Al-Helei. His SSV début came at the 2023 Rallye du Maroc, where he won the class overall.

With Ferreira out of the picture, Yasir Seaidan went on to win Stage #2 and trails Al-Helei in the SSV overall by two minutes and ten seconds. Seaidan received a penalty himself earlier on Wednesday of a one-minute addition to his Stage #1 time after his co-driver Michaël Metge was caught not properly wearing his seatbelt for roughly twenty-five seconds while their car was moving.

The next W2RC race will be a homecoming for Ferreira as the BP Ultimate Rally-Raid kicks off in Portugal in April.

UPDATE (29 February): Ferreira has released a statement on the disqualification. The article has been amended to include it.

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