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HomeClassic Car Invest2024 Dakar Rally: Rodrigo Varela racing with backup Can-Am due to Red...

2024 Dakar Rally: Rodrigo Varela racing with backup Can-Am due to Red Sea crisis

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Although this is his maiden Dakar Rally, Rodrigo Varela is currently second overall in the SSV class with a stage win. Perhaps making his début more impressive is that he is driving a Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo that he hastily put together in Portugal before bringing it to Saudi Arabia, where he had to scramble to find spare parts before the race began.

Speaking with Universo Online, Varela explained the cargo ship with his car had to change course from its original route through the Red Sea to avoid attacks or raids by the Houthis. Consequently, the vehicle is not expected to arrive in Saudi Arabia until 16 January, nearly two weeks after the Dakar had already started. Most Dakar Rally vehicles were transported together on the Jolly Palladio and Jolly Titanio vessels after undergoing scrutineering in Barcelona in December, and reached their destination in the middle of that month. However, competitors were still allowed to bring their vehicles to the race on their own.

He learned of the rerouting on Christmas Day. Varela eventually came across an available, mostly race-ready Maverick in Portugal, where Can-Am’s factory SSV team South Racing is headquartered; once in Al-‘Ula, he began a scramble to find spare parts within four days until the race started while also ensuring it passes inspection.

“We started to race to look for some alternatives, to try to continue with this dream of racing the Dakar,” Varela told Cross-Country Rally News. “And then, an UTV showed up in Portugal for us to buy and try to bring it here as fast as possible by plane. Everything worked out, we managed to bring the UTV. We had four days to set up this car, to get it ready to race the Dakar. But we’re here and now we’re going to have fun.”

Varela’s original Maverick was prepared by Gustavo Gugelmin, co-driver for Challenger driver Austin Jones and a close friend of the family who previously worked with his father and 2018 Dakar SSV champion Reinaldo Varela.

“He had to run, buy a car in Portugal, had an air freight, find as much spare parts as he can,” Gugelmin remarked.

Despite the situation, Varela has quickly adapted to his new environment. While the Saudi desert is a far cry from his usual stomping grounds as a three-time Brazilian national champion and 2022 Rallye dos Sertões winner, he was already stage winner from the get-go when he won the SSV class in Stage #1. After five stages, he sits second overall in class trailing Jérôme de Sadeleer by 5:30.

Varela was not the only competitor with a pre-Dakar logistical scare. RallyGP rider and fellow Sertões winner Mason Klein‘s Kove 450 Rally EX was stuck in customs in the United Arab Emirates a day before technical inspection ended, prompting his team to embark on a late-night rush across Saudi Arabia to fetch it; Klein completed setting up the bike just thirty minutes prior to closing.

Houthi attacks on international shipping have intensified as the war in Gaza, where the movement is aligned with Hamas against Israel, continued to escalate. This prompted many vessels such as the one carrying Varela’s Can-Am to bypass the Suez Canal and Red Sea in favour of going around the continent of Africa, greatly extending travel time and causing disruptions and delays. In response, the United States is leading a multi-national coalition to stop the attacks and piracy via Operation Prosperity Guardian. On Friday, hours before the second half of the Dakar’s Chrono Stage began, the United States and United Kingdom launched retaliatory airstrikes against Houthi military targets in Yemen.

The situation prompted Quad team CFMOTO Thunder Racing Team to cancel their plans of entering the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in February, the second round of the World Rally-Raid Championship after Dakar; both races’ host nations Saudi Arabia and the UAE back the internationally recognised Yemeni government in their civil war against the Houthis. The Houthis’ meddling in the Red Sea also links the Gaza and Yemeni wars, the former of which has greatly impacted the rally raid world since it began in October as the Jordan Baja was cancelled while national flags were banned from being displayed on cars and bikes for Dakar.

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