The period of preparation and testing for the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Program is on pause as they find themselves in the thick of the action at the 2020 Dakar Rally. Under the stars and stripes banner of Red Bull Off-Road Team USA, the program is making its presence felt at the toughest rally on the planet.
A new host country is not the only change at the Dakar this year, among those signed up to the challenge in Saudi Arabia are young, raw-talented and hungry drivers. Racing for Red Bull Off-Road Team USA at this Dakar are Mitch Guthrie Jr. (USA) and Blade Hildebrand (USA). They are joined in their adventure by a pair of illustrious coaches and mentors, five-time Dakar winner Cyril Despres (FRA) and legendary explorer Mike Horn (SUI).
Two stages in and Red Bull Off-Road Team USA have already recorded three Top 10 finishes in the Dakar’s SxS race. Guthrie Jr. alongside co-driver Ola Floene (NOR) was 10th on Stage 1 and seventh on Stage 2. These encouraging early results have put Guthrie Jr. seventh overall on his Dakar debut.
“I know that there’s still a long way to go, I’m just going to keep on trying to do what I’ve been doing.” – Mitch Guthrie Jr.
“I was definitely more excited than nervous ahead of my first Dakar stage. I’ve got so used to the type of racing I’ve been doing for so long and this was something completely new for me. I always knew there would be so much for me to learn. Stage 1 was really good. We started out slow and then began cruising and getting passed people. Slowly but surely we were picking up the pace and figuring out what we were doing. We had zero flats and zero problems with the car, that was what we were aiming for. Today was different. I was among the Kamaz trucks and the course was a lot rougher. We were hitting the skidplate a lot more. Yesterday was just about racing against my class and today I was there with cars, trucks, quads and motorcycles. It was interesting for sure. I’m happy to have got through these first couple days without any problems. I know that there’s still a long way to go, I’m just going to keep on trying to do what I’ve been doing. Overall the feeling is excited, happy and ready for what’s still to come.” – Mitch Guthrie Jr.
Hildebrand has returned to the Dakar after winning the OP.1 class at last year’s rally in Peru. Hildebrand and co-driver François Cazalet (FRA) have been short on luck so far at the Dakar and during the second stage the clutch on their OT3 vehicle suffered mechanical failure. In order to keep gaining in maturity and to accumulate kilometres in the new born OT3 vehicle, Hildebrand will continue in the Dakar Experience category, a new class which competitors can enter after dropping out of the official classification.
The coaching crew of Despres and Horn were riding high on Stage 1 and placed in the Top 5 until their progress was hampered by overheating issues. On Stage 2 a collision with a rock slowed them down as they caught a puncture, but they battled back from adversity to set the day’s ninth fastest time in the SxS class. The senior members of the team are placed eight overall in the standings.
“This car can be competitive but it still needs some work to be done.” – Cyril Despres
The three race crews are driving the OT3 by Overdrive in Saudi Arabia. This machine is the first prototype side-by-side (SxS) machine ever built specifically for rally-raid racing. It’s FIA specification 1000cc engine produces 177 horsepower and 290Nm of torque.
The powerful output of the OT3 is all the more impressive considering its one-litre engine is comparable to that found under the hood of hatchbacks such as a Volkswagen Fox. Vehicles akin to the OT3 are seen by many as representing the future of offroad racing due to them being more accessible than other machines competing at the Dakar.
A few teething problems such as those experienced on the opening two stages are to be expected when bringing a new vehicle to motorsports’ ultimate test of endurance. However, even with some setbacks Red Bull Off-Road Team USA are in the fight with two stages down and committed to giving their best in the 10 days of racing that remain at the Dakar.
“We saw that we are definitely competitive, therefore it is the target to go for a stage win as soon as possible.” – Jean Marc Fortin, Overdrive CEO
Tomorrow sends the entire Dakar convoy on a loop stage that will start and finish at the bivouac in Neom. The majority of the 414-kilometre special stage will be over sandy ground as Red Bull Off-Road Team USA continues to acquaint itself with the deserts of Saudi Arabia.
Photos & Story courtesy of RedBull.com