The 2021 Dakar Rally took place in the first half of January and marks the 43rd annual running of the famous race. It’s the longest off-road race on the planet, but is it the toughest? Well, that’s debatable. But, the fact that competitors have to travel nearly 5000 miles during the 12-day event while keeping their cars alive and braving the elements of the Saudi Arabian desert certainly makes it one of the toughest races. Last year, Casey Currie made history by becoming the first American to win (American Ricky Brabec also won on a bike) any class at the rally. While Casey didn’t compete this year, there were a host of other American drivers in Can-Am X3s, Polaris RZRs and the Red Bull OT3 car wanting to again bring the Dakar title back to the U.S.

The top-11 finishers in the class and 24 of 29 finishers were driving a Can-Am vehicle. American Austin Jones finished an incredible second place by only 17 minutes after 12 days of racing.
In North America, we think it’s a treat riding or racing along the Pacific Ocean in Oregon or Baja. The Dakar runs along the Red Sea for a section.
Imagine wrenching on or driving cars for 12 hours a day and sleeping in a tent for two weeks straight. Just to finish Dakar without dropping out is a feat in itself.
Take a look inside the cockpit of a Red Bull OT3 car. There’s more switches and gauges than many private airplanes. Yet, the steering wheel looks like it came from a bumper car.
Baja specialist Wayne Matlock led the Team USA Polaris factory effort. It was a good showing, as he finished every stage and learned a lot to bring to the table next year. In the end, Matlock and navigator Sam Hayes ended up 13th.
With a completely new route, the 2021 Dakar Rally, held in Saudi Arabia, created several dramatic moments and constant challenges for everyone, even the eventual race winners.
To finish first, you must first finish. Wayne Matlock did just that and finished his first attempt at the Dakar Rally.
The locals now use the most practical truck on the planet, the diesel-powered Toyota Land Cruiser.

Early in the rally, Seth Quintero took a stage win, becoming the youngest driver ever to do so. Quintero even held the overall lightweight vehicle (or SSV) lead shortly after; however, his success was short-lived, as he suffered transmission failure on Stage 9. Seth’s teammates Mitch Guthrie Jr. and Christine Gutierrez Herrero, who also took a stage win, also had troubles with the VW drivetrain that the Red Bull cars use.

Cristina Gutiérrez and co-driver Francois Cazalet: Cristina made a bold statement during her first drive with the Red Bull Off-Road Junior team by winning Stage 1. In doing so, Cristina became the first female stage winner since Jutta Kleinschmidt’s last stage win in 2005.
The car setup is quite a bit different for the Dakar Rally. Front and rear mudflaps and dual spare tires are typical. All will get you through the long stages and the road section in between. We think the windshield would really help reduce fatigue during the world’s longest race.

You can see it in their eyes. Driver Kristen Matlock is glued to the horizon, and Max Eddy in the right seat has laser focus on the road book. Unfortunately it was a nosedive in a section like this, in an early stage, that caused the team to break down.
For the Red Bull Off-Road Junior team, the biggest heartbreak came for Mitch Guthrie Jr. and co-driver Ola Floene when an engine oil-pressure issue ended their rally prematurely. Mitch picked up two stages in 2020 and had even bigger ambitions this time around.
“To win the rally for a fourth consecutive year gives us great pride, since Dakar is really the toughest race in the world,” said Bernard Guy, Senior Vice President of Global Product Strategy at BRP. “In order to dominate that race, the Maverick X3 must be prepared for and have the capacity to overcome each potentially difficult scenario.
Yamaha YXZs have been competing in Dakar since they have allowed side-by-sides. 2021 rookie Mattias Ekstrom piloted his Yamaha in the Lightweight Vehicle class this year but had to pull out at the halfway mark.
The landscape of any Dakar Rally is out of this world. The Saudi Arabian version is no different. UTVs excel in this arena.

A steadier Austin Jones kept his Can-Am X3 towards the front for the entire rally. Speaking of steady, the Matlock couple—Wayne and Kristen—had quite an event date at Dakar. Kristen broke a front end when cresting a dune too fast and was forced out of the racing portion of the rally before the halfway point. She finished by driving in the Dakar Experience category. Basically, she ended up being the on-course chase for her husband Wayne, helping him get to the finish.

Kristen Matlock charged hard in the Experience class after making a big mistake in the dunes and breaking her car. Dakar allows competitors to keep running the event, even if they time out of a stage, by joining the Experience class. She finished and was able to keep tabs on husband Wayne on the course.

Many sections of this year’s rally looked like they were crossing Glamis. With the massive number of deserts we have in California, it’s a shame we can’t hold this race here or even a small version of it.
History was made on Stage 6 when American Seth Quintero became the youngest-ever stage winner in the rally’s 40-plus-year history.


Saudi Arabia

1. Francisco Contardo/Jaun Vinagre (CHL), Can-Am X3

2. Austin Jones/Gustavo Gugelmin (USA), Can-Am X3

3. Aron Domzala/Maciej Marton (POL) , Can-AM X3

4. Michal Goczal/Szymon Gospondarczyk (POL), Can-Am X3

5. Reinaldo Varela/Maykel Justo (BRA), Can-Am X3

Other American Teams

13. Wayne Matlock/Sam Hayes,  Polaris RZR Pro XP

18. Seth Quintero/Dennis Zenz, Red Bull OT3

Experience class: Kristen Matlock-Max Eddy, Polaris RZR Pro XP

Withdrew Stage 6: Mitch Guthrie-Floene Ola, Red Bull OT3

See UTV Action’s report on the Polaris factory team RZR race machine here: https://utvactionmag.com/polaris-factory-racing-rzr-pro-xp/

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