The 43rd Dakar Rallye kicks off the 2021 UTV racing season in Saudi Arabia, and this year’s edition has all-new special test terrain over the 12-day race. As UTV Action has reported, Polaris Factory Racing officially entered the Dakar in hopes of ending Can-Am’s stranglehold on the unique and iconic race that sees motorcycles, rally cars, box trucks (formerly support vehicles), ATVs and now UTVs competing on the same course. GPS navigation plays a big part of Dakar, which covers 7,776 kilometers over 12 days of racing in 2021.
Americans made history in 2020 Dakar with Casey Currie winning the UTV overall in his Can-Am Monster Energy Maverick X3 and Ricky Brabec winning the bikes for Honda. Inexplicably, Currie chose not to defend his title for 2021. While UTVs have been categorized with the 4WD rally cars in the past, last year they broke away and got their own classes; Turbos are in T4.1 and non-Turbos are in T4.2. Red Bull’s then-VW-powered OT3 didn’t fit in the UTV (SSV) class, so there is also a new 2021 Light-Weight Vehicle (LWV) classification. Weirdly, many UTVs are signed up in both the SSV and LWP classes. Dakar.com lists both SSV and LWV results but NBCSN says they’re one in the same.
Dakar always starts with a spectator-friendly prologue (originally from Paris to a port city for the ferry ride to Morocco), and 2021’s Prologue was 129 kilometers. American Austin Jones won the UTVs on January 3rd for Can-Am with Reinaldo Varela (C-A/Bra) only 4 seconds behind. Saudi Saleh Alsaif was third in a FN Speed/Team Black Horse.
In LWV on Stage 1, Spaniard Cristina Gutierrez Herrero took the Red Bull OT3 to the win, covering 623 kilometers in 03:46:38. In UTVs, Jones was first with a 03:42:55, finishing 37 seconds ahead of Chili’s Francisco Lopez Contardo in a South Racing Can-Am. Poland’s Aron Domzala was another 7 seconds back in a Monster Energy Can-Am, and Can-Ams took the top 5 positions.
Stage 2 was 685 kilometers in dunes, and Saleh Alsaif won the UTVs in an FN Speed in 05:06:07, beating Gerard Farres Guell (C-A/Spain) by 40 seconds. Chilean Francisco Lopez was third UTV and leads the General Classification after the Prologue and two Stages with a 08:58:13, some 39 seconds ahead of Domzala. Austin Jones is 5th, and Polaris’ Wayne Matlock is 11th and almost 57 minutes back.
Cristina Gutierrez leads the LWP class with an 09:01:00, and Dakar rookie Seth Quintero is 17 minutes 33 seconds back in another Red Bull OT3. Sweden’s Mattias Ekstrom (Yam) is third, while King of the Hammers icon Mitch Guthrie, Junior is 13th in another Red Bull OT3. He’s down 04:10:56 though.