World Rally-Raid Championship

2024 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge: Juan Cruz Yacopini disqualified for Stage 3 crew assistance

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Credit: Bastien Roux/DPPI

Juan Cruz Yacopini was vying for the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge overall lead on Wednesday when his hopes were dashed by a bizarre crash with Martin Prokop. To twist the knife, the FIA announced Thursday that he has been disqualified because his crew was on site to help.

Under Article 49.2.1 of the FIA Cross-Country Rally Sporting Regulations, crews cannot come within one kilometre of their vehicle while it is still in the Selective Section.

Yacopini entered Wednesday’s Stage #3 third overall, trailing leader Nasser Al-Attiyah by 9:38 and fellow Toyota Hilux driver Lucas Moraes by 8:31. He took the stage lead 100 kilometres into the leg when Al-Attiyah was forced to stop for twenty minutes with a mechanical issue, and probably would have ended the day with the outright lead as well had things gone to plan as Moraes retired after his car caught fire at the finish.

Unfortunately, fate did not have that in store for him as he missed a drop and rolled, losing twenty-five minutes. As he crossed the 200-km mark, he was going a dune but was unable to avoid Prokop, whose Ford Raptor was stuck in the sand with a damaged rear wheel after tangling with Denis Krotov moments prior. Yacopini t-boned Prokop in the driver’s side and narrowly grazed Prokop’s co-driver Viktor Chytka in the leg, leaving both cars ensnared with each other and Prokop stuck inside the cockpit.

“At that moment I was very scared because it could have really been a tragedy,” commented Yacopini.

The damage—which included a broken rear arm and having to squeeze past the radiator to reach—left the Hilux unable to proceed further, and Yacopini’s Overdrive Racing team came to the scene to provide help. His father was also present and provided “minor assistance but did not provide any tool or spare part,” as stated by the team in a hearing with the FIA; he later explained the elder Yacopini “doesn’t know anything about mechanics” and simply placed tape on the vehicle before passing it on.

Yacopini eventually reached the finish twelfth in the Ultimate class and nearly three hours behind winner Seth Quintero, dropping him to tenth in the general ranking.

“The rules are clear. It’s a world championship, here you have to comply with them,” Yacopini continued. “You have to pay for the consequences you learn. The learning can be very expensive.”

The penalty comes a day after SSV driver João Ferreira was disqualified for the same infraction in Stage #2. Yacopini is the fourth disqualification of the 2024 World Rally-Raid Championship after Ferreira and Challenger competitors Eryk and Michał Goczał, the latter two being knocked out at the Dakar Rally in January by non-compliant clutches.

Prior to his exit, Yacopini placed third and fifth in the first two stages. He began the season with an eighteenth-place class finish at the Dakar Rally, and entered Abu Dhabi fourteenth in points.

UPDATE (1 March): Article has been updated to include comments from Yacopini.

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