SSV: CAN-AM at the helm
Ø Among the slim-line buggies (also known as Light Weight Vehicles) weighing less than 900 kg and with an engine size restricted to 1000 cc, 46 have enrolled for the Dakar 2021 in the T4 category, namely production vehicles prepared for the rally. This category of SSVs is dominated by Can-Am, whose leading ambassadors for victory will be Francisco “Chaleco” López, Gerard Farrés, Reinaldo Varela or Aron Domżała, whereas the Polaris will be lying in wait ready to spring a surprise.
Ø Alongside the T4 vehicles, 12 other buggies of the same size are registered in the T3 category, as prototypes designed exclusively for the race. Among the competitors behind the wheels of these light prototypes, British rally driver Kris Meeke for PH-Sport could muscle his way into the clan of major players on his first participation on the Dakar, but the RedBull team should make life difficult for him, avec Mitch Guthrie and Seth Quintero.
Not so long ago, and not without a hint of contempt, some people used the term “lawn mowers” to refer to the light buggies making their appearance on the Dakar. Since then, opinions have changed regarding the category, which now can boast a field of considerable size and whose crews are no longer only seduced by the more accessible cost of the vehicles in relation to the cars traditionally found on the rally. From now on, the performance level reached due to a greater number of rivals fighting for the crown has made them competitive and the title up for grabs has increased in value, attracting the discipline’s champions. In this way, former biker Francisco “Chaleco” López made an extremely successful switch to the SSV discipline with victory in 2019, raising his total of stage victories to 17, taking both of his careers on the Dakar into account. The Chilean will be among the favourites to win, but will have to deal with a dense pack of rivals, even within his own team South Racing, for whom he will be notably competing alongside Spaniard Gerard Farrés (2nd in 2019), Brazilian Reinaldo Varela, who triumphed last year, or also Poland’s Aron Domżała, the quickest amongst the SSVs on the Rally of Andalusia behind the wheel of his Can-Am, finishing even among the top 10 of the car category (6th). With the promising Austin Jones (8th in 2020) and Spaniard José Hinojo (5th in 2020) the Can-Am brand, victorious on the last three editions, is not short of kingpins to put it back on the top of the podium.
For all that, the Polaris RZR vehicles, which can point to their experience even though they have lagged behind in recent years, have not had their last word and will soon have the opportunity to shine on their tenth participation in the event. This year, the Xtreme Plus team led by par Marco Piana will benefit from the presence of Jérémie Warnia, a two-time European Champion behind the handlebars of a quad and six-time winner of the Quaduro du Touquet, in the attempt join the battle at the rally’s summit. The Frenchman, a newcomer to the Dakar, could count among the category’s revelations. The renewal of the brand’s chances could also come from America, thanks to the participation of the official Polaris RZR Factory Racing team, which will be giving Dakar aficionados the opportunity to get to know the couple formed by Wayne and Kristen Matlock, who have gobbled up victories on the US circuit and who will each be racing in their own T4 vehicle.
Although the differences may not stand out to the naked eye, the light prototypes are classed in the T3 category. This will therefore be a fully-fledged race category with a dozen vehicles behind the wheels of which renowned drivers have also decided to take their place. One of the most prominent rookies on the Dakar, Britain’s Kris Meeke, will be tasting a new discipline (after having won 5 rounds during his 3 seasons in the WRC) in a T3 christened Zéphyr by the PH-Sport team. The battle could soon prove to be fierce with Russian Sergey Karyakin, a former winner in the quad category, as well as with the three prototypes racing for the RedBull team. Young American Mitch Guthrie, at the age of 24 years, already performed sensationally in January 2020 behind the wheel of his OT3 prepared by Overdrive. He will be joined by Seth Quintero, who had to reach adulthood before trying his luck and who will be the youngest driver on the 2021 edition at the tender age of 18 years old, though this will not prevent him from having lofty ambitions. The category will also be enlivened by a competitive feminine presence, because the third OT3 has been entrusted to Spaniard Cristina Gutierrez (26th in the car category in 2019) and she will be hoping she proves to be quicker than the duo of Camelia Liparoti and Annett Fischer. Loyal to the constructor on whose machines she raced in the quad category, the Franco-Italian rider will especially be teaming up for the Yamaha/X-Raid Team with former DTM and rally-cross champion Mathias Ekström, another rookie whose performances could set tongues wagging…