It’s day three in the bivouac in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and South Racing Can-Am has just wrapped their preparations for the start of Dakar 2022, a monumental race known for pushing competitors mentally and physically over 7,000 kilometers over two weeks. This year marks the 44th year of the race and its third year in Saudi Arabia.
Over the last three days, the South Racing Can-Am team has been modifying, tuning, tightening, and optimizing the Maverick X3 side by side vehicles that they’ll be racing in the T3 and T4 categories in the SSV (Side by Side Vehicle) category. Today’s final adjustments are following yesterday’s Shakedown event and before today’s scrutineering when Dakar officials inspect the vehicle to certify that it, and the competitors’ safety gear, comply with race standards.
Four South Racing Can-Am Factory drivers – Aron Domzala, Gerrard Farres, AJ Jones, and Molly Taylor – will take the starting line this year as part of 21 vehicles being serviced and supported by South Racing and South Racing Middle East on the race. This year, 121 lightweight vehicles will compete in the T3 and T4 categories.
Coming off the high of securing the FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup title in November, American South Racing Can-Am Factory driver AJ Jones is favored to take home the T4 title. This will be his third Dakar. He placed 2nd in the category in 2021 and 8th as a private entry in 2020.
“There are so many people at Dakar, and anything can happen. You can be down an hour one day, and then within the 12 days, you can still come back. It’s a lot of pressure, but I like being the guy to beat,” says Jones.
Alongside him, Brazilian co-driver Gustavo Gugelmin will be navigating this year’s course.
If Jones succeeds in taking home victory, he’ll be the second American to do so in the SSV category and the third American to claim a first-place win at Dakar. (Casey Currie was the first American to win in the T4 category in 2020.)
It isn’t just Jones that’s getting all the attention. Fresh off an Extreme E victory, Australian South Racing Can-Am Factory driver Molly Taylor is another favorite this year.
“I needed someone who could go and give all the competitors in the race a headache, and Molly really fit that profile. I felt that she was very underrated in terms of what she’s already achieved to date. She won Australian Rally championships before it was cool for girls to beat guys. That was a fact. I think she has phenomenal talent,” says Scott Abraham, South Racing Team Manager.
For the first time in Dakar history, the introduction of two Saudi-born female drivers, Mashael Al-Obaidan and Dania Akeel, will be racing under South Racing Middle East in the SSV T3 category. The two have been receiving much attention, especially in the local press.
As for the machines they’re driving? Stock Can-Am Maverick X3 lightweight vehicles can be purchased worldwide, including here in Saudi Arabia, where they’ve gained immense popularity. These Dakar-ready X3s, however, have been modified specifically for the demands of racing across such diverse terrain. From a 100% Chrome-Moly chassis and reinforced roll cage bars to custom suspension arms with Ohlins Dampers and reinforced ball joints, J. Juan racing brakes, Method Race Wheels, Tensor tires, carbon-fiber panels and bodywork, a shatterproof windshield, and aluminum skid plates, these vehicles are lighter, but not faster. The Dakar rules restrict the 195HP Rotax Engine to 160HP, a standard for each vehicle in this category.
Dakar 2022 starts on January 1st in Ha’il, Saudi Arabia, and can be followed live from the Dakar mobile app.