This year marked the first time the Dakar Rally was brought under the umbrella of the FIM World Rally-Raid Championship.
The inclusion of the Dakar – the World’s biggest Rally – in the series schedule certainly helped raise the profile of the four-round championship as well as ensuring an early start with the Saudi Arabia-based event kicking off on New Year’s Day.
British rider Sam Sunderland – GASGAS became his nation’s first Dakar winner in 2017 and he claimed win number two this time around in the forty-fourth edition of the event after twelve stages and thousands of miles of desert racing.
The lead changed hands throughout the event before Sunderland, who signed for GASGAS at the end of last season, finally broke clear of the chasing pack on stage eleven.
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge was next up in early March and the thirty-three-year-old Dubai-based rider was victorious again after five days in the saddle.
Beginning the final day with a slim thirty-two second lead, Sunderland had the advantage of starting behind most of his main rivals and was able to pick and choose the best lines.
Following a calendar reshuffle due to a heightened summer fire risk in southern Europe, round three – the Rallye Du Maroc – was held at the start of October.
After five days of racing across the Moroccan desert it was America’s Skyler Howes who came out on top, but Sutherland’s fighting fifth ensured he was a clear favourite to take the title at the Andalucia Rally that was held just twelve days later.
France’s Adrien van Beveren – Honda, who at one stage had led the 2022 Dakar Rally, ran out winner in Spain, however Sunderland’s fifth-place finish earned him the title by twenty-six points from American Ricky Brabec – Honda.
FIM World Rally Raid Champion: 2019, 2022
Sam Sunderland (KTM) ensured that there would be no repeat of his 2017 disappointment, when he missed out on the title at the final round, by wrapping up the 2019 FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship with a round to spare.
In the absence of 2017 and 2018 champions Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) and Toby Price (KTM) through injury, 2016 runner-up Sunderland stepped up to secure a commanding opening-round win at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge over impressive youngsters Nacho Cornejo (Honda) of Chile, who took two stage wins, and Argentina’s Luciano Benavides (KTM).
Round two saw the spectacular Silk Way Rally included on the FIM calendar for the first time, the riders taking on five thousand kilometres from Irkutsk in Russia, through the Taiga forests of Eastern Siberia and then crossing the Mongolian steppes to finish in the Gobi Desert in China. This time Sunderland prevailed over Andrew Short (Husqvarna) and Adrien Van Beveren (Yamaha) to set up his title chance at Rally Atacama in Chile.
Quintanilla returned from an eight-month absence since injuring his ankle on the Dakar Rally to win his home round on the final stage, whilst Price also came back from a long lay-off due to a broken scaphoid, winning the prologue stage as well as the fourth desert stage to take fourth overall. However, second position for Sunderland was enough to seal the title and emulate factory team-mates Price and Matthias Walkner as a winner of both the Dakar Rally and the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship.