Nasser Al-Attiyah – The Good Guy

Nasser Al-Attiyah is many things.  A three time winner of the Dakar Rally in cars, an Olympic medalist, and a multi time champion in rally car racing.  Nasser can now add a new accomplishment to his already long list: SCORE Baja 1000 second overall finisher.

Nasser with his team at the Baja 1000 finish line. Photo: Art Eugenio / Red Bull Content Pool

About five years ago, Nasser was trying to put a deal together to come race in Baja.  He came close a couple of times with Steven Eugenio, 2014 Trophy Truck Champion, but in the end the timing never quite worked out.

Toby Price, a two time winner of the Dakar rally on a dirtbike, met up with Trophy Trucker Jesse Jones about three years ago and the pair have teamed up to race the Baja 1000 since then.  Jesse’s son Austin started racing in rally raids and through that experience Jesse became friends with Nasser.  When Jesse broke his foot earlier this year he knew he would not be able to race the Baja 1000. He struck a deal for Toby to drive with Nasser in Jesse’s brand new Mason Motorsports AWD Trophy Truck.

So for the first time in SCORE history, the reigning Dakar Rally car and bike champions, (both Nasser and Toby won their class in Dakar in January of 2019) would be racing the Baja 1000.  Toby would start the race and get the car to race mile 500 near San Felipe, where Nasser would get in and race to the finish in Ensenada.

Nasser al Attiyah (driver) and Timo Gottschalk (co-driver) – Winning Scene of Dakar Rally 2011 in Buenos Aires on January 16th, 2011 // Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Content Pool

While Nasser is a Baja rookie (the 1000 would be his first Baja race) he is no stranger to off road racing.  He won the Dakar Rally in 2011, 2015 and 2019.  In 2006 he won the Production WRC championship.  In 2014 and 2015 he won the WRC-2 Championship, and he is a 13 time Middle East Rally Champion.

The clean undamaged truck at tech.

Mason Motorsports delivered the Trophy Truck to Jones in Baja just two days before the originally scheduled start of the race.  Nasser had been prerunning in one of Jones’s 2wd TT Prerunners and the new AWD handled differently so the drivers obviously wanted to take a test drive to get a feel for the new Mason truck.

The 24 hour delay to the start of the race (this was the 100% right call by SCORE) gave Nasser a little more time to test the truck.  Nasser shook down the new truck on the racecourse near mile 729 close to Heroes de la Independencia just 24 hours from the start of the race.  While coming around a left hand turn, his left rear tire clipped a ledge, making the truck jump and rolling it multiple times, coming to rest on the driver’s side.  The crew quickly got the truck back on its wheels, and after checking it over the truck fired right up and only suffered cosmetic damage.  The hood and passenger bedside were cracked and the front bumper and a couple of lights had small bends.

Nasser stitches the hood with zipties.

Nasser was embarrassed and felt terrible, but Jones assured him it was not a big deal.  Later Nasser got back behind the wheel and completed a few hot runs of that same section without incident.  Back in Ensenada at the team’s hotel pit, Nasser was quick to jump in and help stitch up the broken fiberglass with zipties.

Photo: Art Eugenio / Red Bull Content Pool

As you have probably heard by now, Toby and Nasser finished the race second overall, just over 10 minutes behind race winners Alan and Aaron Ampudia.  I sat down with Nasser before and after the race to talk about his first Baja experience.  What was your first race?

Nasser Al-Attiyah:  My first race was in Qatar in 1990.  It was a small rally raid I did with friends and I finished second place.  I said Ok, this is my sport.  After four years I won the Qatar off road championship, and in 1995 I switched from motorsports to shooting (Skeet).  My first Olympics was 1996 in Atlanta.  I stayed with shooting, and came back to racing in 2003.  Since 2003 I won the Middle East Championship 13 times, and my first Dakar rally was 2004.  Last year I met Jesse and he said “Nasser, what do you think about racing in Baja?”  It was my dream!  Jesse gave me the chance to drive his truck, the Mason AWD, one of the best trucks in Baja.   In Dakar this year he said he wanted my help with his son Austin.  Later he told me that I must come to Baja and race the Baja 1000 with Toby Price.  He did not tell what car or class I would drive but I agreed to come and race anything.  Then he showed me that I would drive the Mason and I was very happy.

Note:  Nasser continued to shoot Skeet in the Olympics after 1996, and he won the Bronze Medal at the 2012 Summer Games in London.

RDC:  You have won Dakar three times and you are an Olympic medalist.  Which is a bigger deal to you?

NAA:  To be honest, the Olympic Medal is really something special.  You are representing your country.  But also motorsport is in my blood.  I am here in Baja for ten days, I love the atmosphere of this race.  I have never done testing like this, or driven a Prerunner.  Today I was in a helicopter to check my section of the course.  It’s really something special.  You cannot find this in Europe or at home.  This Baja 1000 is a good start for me and I am sure I will be back for many years.

Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) of Toyota Gazoo Racing SA races during stage 03 of Rally Dakar 2017 from Tucuman to Jujuy, Argentina on January 4, 2017 // Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Content Pool

RDC:  How does prerunning here compare to recce for a WRC rally? (recce is rallying’s version of prerunning)

NAA:  Completely different.  Prerunning is really enjoyable, you see a lot of people, you share stories, you stop and talk to people, then get back in the car.  Recce is much more serious.  WRC rallies are also very different, short stages, maybe 20km, and that’s it.  It’s not a great fit for me, I like longer stages.  That’s the reason I race Dakar and cross country rally raids.  I have raced WRC Mexico in Guanajuato a few times.  This is not my first time to Mexico but it is my first time to Baja.

Nasser Al-Attiyah performs during the FIA World Rally Championship 2015 in Leon, Mexico on March 7, 2015 // Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

RDC:  You mentioned you want to come back and race more in Baja in the future.

NAA:  Absolutely I will come back next year for the Baja 500, 400 and 1000.  I want to learn more and be better prepared for the Baja 1000.  Next year is a peninsula run to La Paz and it’s a big job.

Nasser Al-Attiyah performs during FIA World Rally Championship 2015 Italy, in Alghero Italy on June 12, 2015 // Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

RDC:  In Dakar you race shorter distances, about 400-500 miles a day but over many days.  Here it is 800 miles and go!

NAA:  Its different.  Here in Baja the good thing is you can split the course with another driver, you share the duties.  You also need to make good plans for pit stops, where to get fuel or tires.  I think the team is doing a great job with pit strategy.

RDC:  Your section is about 300 miles, will that be a problem for you?

NAA:  It is not a big deal.  Toby has raced here three times and I have a lot of mileage in cars.  Toby knows the start and his section very well.  This will be easier for me.  I love that I will do the last 300 miles.  I preran the course two times in the 2wd Prerunner.  I wanted to run the last 300 miles because it is more technical.  It’s a good fit for me.  If I need to push or back off I can do that.  I am very comfortable with my section, except today [laughing]!  (Note.  This was about 4 hours after Nasser rolled the TT in testing).

RDC:  In Dakar there is no recce or prerunning; you have to read the terrain and follow a roadbook.  Is it easier in Baja since you can prerun?

NAA:  Yes it is very difficult in Dakar.  You wake up every morning and get your roadbook for the day, and you don’t know where you are going.  You don’t know if there is a big hole coming or other dangers.  I will say Baja is still not easy, but you have the best notes.  I’ve prerun my section five times.  I know the course very well.  Today I was in the helicopter, I went without GPS, and I showed the pilot where to go, this point then this point, then this point.  The pilot said it’s impossible but I have a good memory.  I am very happy here, it reminds of the first time I raced cross country in the middle east.  We have recce there, it’s like Baja, we go for a week and have the best notes, and really know the stage.  I’m very comfortable, but we also have to learn how far we can push this car (the Mason AWD TT).  This car is incredible, it’s really fast with big tires and shocks.  It’s completely different from my Dakar car, white and black.  Where I might check up in my Toyota Dakar car, this car I can just go without lifting.  It’s been my dream for a long time to come race in Baja.

RDC:  What would it mean to you to win the Baja 1000?

NAA:  Oh! It would be something really special for me.

RDC:  Would it be as important to you as winning Dakar?

NAA:  Of course!  From 1994 I have watched racing in Baja, I follow it.  It was my dream to meet Ivan Stewart.  I’m a big fan, I know how many races he won with Toyota.  I have been wanting to race here for 20 years, and now I am here!  I got to meet the top drivers that have the best teams, I am so happy.

RDC:  You got in the truck at mile 500.  How did your section go?

NAA:  It was a really nice experience.  For me it was my first time in the Baja 1000, and I got a lot of experience; it’s very different from what I do normally.  Toby did an amazing job, I continued and we finished second in my first time.  It was a nice feeling.

RDC:  Any flats or problems?

NAA:  Nothing.  To be honest we did not have any problems, the truck was very strong.  Mason Motorsports built an amazing truck.  The BFGoodrich tires worked very well.

RDC:  Every racer wants to win, and you finished second in your first Baja 1000.  Are you pleased with that result?

NAA:  Yes, absolutely!  If we came and won, it would be not so interesting.  We tried to finish the race and got second place. Now we have a target to come back for next year and win this race.

Inside the cockpit.

RDC:  What was your plan?  Just finish?  Push and go for a win?  Something else?

NAA:  My strategy was to make a good race and finish top three or top five.  When I started my section I was around 32 minutes behind the leader.  I took 20 minutes back, and we finished only 11 minutes behind the winner.  It was a really amazing experience.  I trust myself but I don’t have any experience on this track.  Every kilometer I was reminded that I learned something.  It was my dream for a long time, to complete a Baja 1000.  It’s a dream come true.

RDC:  You preran in the daytime, but your section in the race was at night.  Was that harder?

NAA:  Yes I preran in the day, it was a different feeling at night.  It made it seem shorter, you only focus on the way, no time to see the scenery.  It was no problem because my co-driver Mathieu (Baumel) did a good job and we never got lost or made any mistakes.  It really worked well.

RDC:  Was the navigation a lot easier than Dakar with good notes and prerunning?

NAA: Yes, but it’s different.  With prerunning you have all the details and your pace notes; it is not a big deal.  Because Dakar you receive the roadbook and only the roadbook.

RDC:  I was there for your crash the day before the race.  Did that make you nervous when you raced that section?

NAA:  [Laughing] No, no.  I was really disappointed when I only did three or four miles and put the truck on its side, but OK.  We came back very strong and made no mistakes.  After the roll I got back in and did 10 miles, and I forgot everything and just concentrated on the race.  I put it behind with no problem.

RDC:  As a fan of Ivan Stewart, might you try to Ironman a race like Ivan did in a single seat truck?

NAA:  I would love to do it.  100% I will do it, but I need to get a little more experienced in Baja and decide what class to run.  I would love to run Ironman.  When you want to drive by yourself with no co-driver you need to be really strong and fit.

RDC:  There are rumors that you might come back with the Toyota Gazoo Red Bull team, are they true?

NAA:  I have discussed it with the Toyota Gazoo team.  Maybe I will  give them my advice and the team will build a car, but nothing is planned.  I would love to bring something new to race for the Baja 1000.  The team followed me during the race and asked questions, but no more.  I would like to see teams from outside come race Baja.  If they decided to come I don’t know if they would buy or build  a truck.  It would be a Toyota decision.

RDC:  I saw that you went to the Mason shop after the race; did you order a new truck?

NAA:  Jesse Jones ordered a new truck and I gave my advice a little bit for it to be more comfortable.  For me it will be nice to stay with Jesse next year.

Make no mistake, Nasser is hooked on Baja racing.  He plans to race as many SCORE races as possible next year and he will race the Baja 1000 with Toby Price and Jesse Jones again in 2020.  Drivers and fans alike will enjoy his return.  I watched Nasser (with Toby) walk through tech at the Baja 1000.  For every two steps he took, 10 fans asked for a picture with him.  It took him over two hours to walk the line.  He stopped for every fan and smiled for every picture, he is The Good Guy.

Photos: Durka Durka Photo & Red Bull Content Pool

Nasser poses for photos with fans
L-R codriver Mathieu Baumel, Spec TT winner Austin Jones, Nasser, Toby.
Nasser and Mathieu examine the Michelin Tweel at tech.
Great stuff...we all miss this kind of interaction and information that long formats provide over endless jabbering on social media platforms.
  • S
    Scott Harmier
  • December 7, 2019
Great write up. Nasser is a top professional and signing autographs and talking to the people is what makes him a great ambassador for who ever he is racing for! I like the picture of Nasser and Andy Mac. It would be nice to see Andy is a Red Bull car in Dakar.