Vaidotas Zala returning to Dakar Rally in 2024

Vaidotas Žala lost most of his sponsors after a disappointing end to the 2023 Dakar Rally, but has found a saviour. On Tuesday, he announced Lithuanian logistics company Arijus Group has become the new title sponsor for his team—dubbing it Arijus Racing—and confirmed he will return to Dakar in 2024.

Teltonika, a telecommunications firm, ended its title sponsorship of Žala’s team in late January after two years together.

“The last eight months have been some of the most difficult in my career,” wrote Žala. “We had a bunch of technical problems in Dakar and when we came back we lost a lot of funding. I’m so glad that Arijus gave us a second chance and lowered the ladder into the pit.

“Until recently, it seemed that Dakar would be out of our reach, but we can set off again. I will do my best to take advantage of this opportunity!”

Žala has raced the Dakar Rally since 2016 as a privateer bouncing between various manufacturers including SEAT, Toyota, and Mini. For 2023, he joined up with Prodrive to race a Hunter under his team’s banner of Teltonika Racing with support from Bahrain Raid Xtreme.

The 2023 Rally was being an up-and-down affair for the Lithuanian as he alternated between top-ten stage finishes or retiring with mechanical issues, with his worst finish being an eleventh on the opening day. His Prodrive team-mates seemed to struggle equally, which included a disastrous Strage #2 where Žala, Guerlain Chicherit, and Sébastien Loeb all suffered flat tyre punctures. The trio bounced back seven legs later when they swept the T1 podium in Stage #9 with Žala in second.

Unfortunately for Žala, the vehicle problems returned over the next two days before a broken gearbox eliminated him altogether in Stage #11.

While Žala has not raced a World Rally-Raid Championship round since Dakar, he has remained active in the Lithuanian Rally Championship. During the summer, he and fellow Lithuanian Dakar veterans Antanas Juknevičius and Benediktas Vanagas became ambassadors for “Milijonas vaistinėlių Ukrainai“, a programme to donate old first aid kits in Lithuanian cars to Ukraine; the campaign ultimately procured 115,223 kits.

The 2024 Dakar Rally begins on 5 January.

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