Otavio Sousa Leite confirms FIA World Cup T3 title at Dubai International Baja
South Racing Can-Am Team clinched a sensational double victory at the three-day Dubai International Baja, the final round of the 2023 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas.
Brazilian driver Otavio Sousa Leite confirmed the T3 Championship title with victory in the category and fifth overall with co-driver João Ferreira, while Portuguese driver João Ferreira romped to a comfortable win in the T4 class and guided his Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR to a stunning fourth place in the overall rankings with co-driver Filipe Palmeiro.
Sousa Leite said: “I came into the event with low expectations of becoming the champion. Turns out, all the bad luck throughout the year turned in our favour in this last race. We won yesterday’s stage and today my dad secured another victory. Now we are World Champions!”
Ferreira said: “We came to Dubai because we know how important it is to see the car that we’re going to take to the Dakar on this type of sand and dune surfaces. The test went very well and it was a real learning experience for the future.”
Sousa Leite’s father Cristiano de Sousa Batista had already wrapped up the T4 title before the previous round and he and Portuguese co-driver Fausto Moto shadowed his son to the finish at Dubai’s Festival City to confirm second in T3 and seventh overall. Dania Akeel rounded off the T3 podium in a South Racing-built Can-Am Maverick X3 and confirmed third in the Drivers’ Championship.
Paraguay’s Andrea Lafarja teamed up with Perú’s Hector Garcia Chavez to drive a fourth T3 Can-Am for the South Racing Team. She incurred two 15-minute penalties for missing waypoints but reached the finish in an excellent fourth in her class.
A new Ecuadorian pairing of Bradley Salazar and Marci Guerro joined the South Racing Can-Am Team for the first time. Salazar has been competing for six years in his native country and started out with dirt bikes and motocross before switching to UTVs. He finished 20th in T3 at the 2023 Dakar Rally. Salazar was second quickest on the first of the desert stages and held a similar position at the final night halt before retiring on the last stage.
The South Racing Can-Am Team also ran a pair of Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RRs for Poland’s Szustkowski and German racer Wastl Bayer and their respective co-drivers Robin Szustkowski and Stefan Henken, although Bayer switched to the T3 category before the start.
Szustkowski suffered delays and hefty time penalties on the first day in the desert and eventually finished sixth in T4. Bayer began the last stage in sixth place in T3 before crashing out of contention.
South Racing Can-Am Team’s managing director Scott Abraham said: “This was a great way to end the season for South Racing. Congratulations to Otavio and Cristiano in winning the T3 and T4 World Championships. It was a great race by João Ferreira and Filipe Palmeiro, who used the event as preparation for Dakar. A big congratulations to all of the South Racing team and BRP for a great year. Now we can celebrate a little and then start to focus on Dakar 2024, which is just around the corner.”
Action got underway on Friday evening with a two-kilometre Prologue at Dubai’s Festival City, which ran in the dark for the first time and attracted a large number of spectators. Otavio Sousa began his battle for the title with the fastest time, the Brazilian beating his father by 0.6 seconds to move into the lead. Lafarja and Salazar were classified seventh and 10th of the 11 T3 runners.
In T4, Ferreira was the class of the field and moved into a 9.4-second cushion over his nearest rival. Szustkowski finished the short stage in sixth.
Saturday’s second stage through the Al-Qudra desert was split into two competitive sections of 84.33km and 84.58km by a neutralisation and non-competitive zone, which enabled the bikes, quads, T3 and T4 machines to refuel.
Ferreira was in sensational form and the Portuguese romped to the fifth quickest time of all the cars to surge 24min 52.3sec ahead in T4 and hold fifth in the general classification. Otavio Sousa won the T3 stage by 4min 46.1sec from Salazar and reached the night halt with a lead over the Ecuadorian driver of 5min 03.5sec. His father was third overall, as South Racing Can-Ams held the top three places.
The third stage ran through the Al-Qudra desert and featured two competitive sections of 84.90km and 83.72km before the return to Dubai’s Festival City for the finish ceremony. Ferreira stormed through the stage to claim the day’s win by 7min 39.3sec and the overall T4 category win by the margin of 36min 541sec. De Sousa Batista beat his son by 2min 08.4sec but Sousa Leite did enough to claim overall T3 success from his father by 5min 29.4sec.
The South Racing Can-Am Team receives valuable support for the race programme from BRP, Rotax, Method Wheels, Tensor Tires, Motul, J.Juan Brake Systems, Oakley and Sparco.
Dubai International Baja – FIA T3 standings:
2. Cristiano de Sousa Batista (BRA)/Fausto Mota (PRT) South Racing Can-Am Maverick X3 6hr 09min 34.9sec
3. Dania Akeel (SAU)/Taye Perry (DEU) Can-Am Maverick X3 6hr 32min 50.3sec
4. Andrea Lafarja Bittar (PRY)/Hector Garcia Chavez (PER) South Racing Can-Am Maverick X3 7hr 18min 52.8sec
5. Josef Machacek (CZE)/David Schovanek (CZE) Buggyra Can-Am DV21 18hr 06min 51.3sec
Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Oriol Vidal (ESP) Can-Am Maverick X3 RETIRED
Wastl Bayer (DEU)/Stefan Henken (DEU) South Racing Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR RETIRED
Bradley Salazar (ECU)/Marco Guerron (ECU) South Racing Can-Am Maverick X3 RETIRED
Yasir Seaidan (SAU)/Michel Metge (FRA) Can-Am Maverick X3 RETIRED
Hamad Al-Harbi (SAU)/Waleed Al-Shegawi (SAU) Can-Am Maverick X3 RETIRED
Rashid Al-Ketbi (ARE)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Can-Am Maverick X3 RETIRED
Dubai International Baja – FIA T4 standings:
1. João Ferreira (PRT)/Filipe Palmeiro (PRT) South Racing Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR 5hr 48min 48.1sec
2. Amerigo Ventura (ITA)/Mirko Brun (ITA) Yamaha YXZ 1000 R SS 6hr 25min 42.2sec
3. Atif Al-Zarouni (ARE)/Patrick McMurren (ARE) Yamaha YXZ 1000 R SS 7hr 06min 46.9sec
4. Stefano Marrini (ITA)/Silvio Valentini (ITA) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR 7hr 20min 50.9sec
5. Salem Al-Dhafeeri (KWT)/Hassan Ali Obaid (ARE) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR 7hr 59min 28.0sec
6. Aleksander Szustkowski (POL)/Robin Szustkowski (POL) South Racing Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR 18hr 44min 06.8sec
7. Abdullah Al-Khulaifi (QAT)/Abdulaziz Al-Jabri (QAT) Yamaha YXZ 1000 R SS 22hr 19min 42.4sec
9. Ahmed Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Manuel Lucchese (ITA) Yamaha YXZ 1000 R SS 28hr 29min 33.3sec
Ricardo Ramilo Suarez (ESP)/Arnau Lledo Pares (ESP) Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR RETIRED