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Compete within the Dakar Rally With South Racing’s Can-Am Program. Right here’s How.

Compete within the Dakar Rally With South Racing’s Can-Am Program. Right here’s How.

As this year winds down, a horde of hardcore racers will descend on Saudi Arabia to once more live out the dream of competing in the Dakar Rally, next held from January 5 through 19, 2024. Formerly run in Europe and Africa, then for 11 years in South America, the Dakar Rally famously pushes drivers and cars to the absolute limit over thousands of miles of high-speed dune running and technical rocky trails, with the added challenge of the occasional flash flood or even snowstorm thrown in.

Dakar attracts entries ranging from multimillion-dollar factory teams to individuals who show up with just a dirt bike and the goal of simply finishing the grueling endurance test. But the rise of side-by-side racing in the World Rally Raid Championship (W2RC) makes racing the Dakar much easier in the modern era, especially due to such “arrive and drive” initiatives as South Racing’s Can-Am Maverick X3 program. 

We recently traveled to Portugal to visit South Worx, located just outside of Lisbon, where South Racing’s full-time crew of 60 employees builds the race cars that run in W2RC’s T3 and T4 classes—including the race cars for the Can-Am Red Bull Factory Team. The latter won the T3 category overall and took second in T4 in the 2023 Dakar Rally, one of the most difficult editions of the contest to date.

One of South Racing’s Can-Am Maverick X3 side-by-side racers.

Michael Van Runkle

At South Worx, the T3 and T4 cars start as full tube-frame chassis welded in house and then assembled according to the specs of each class. T3 cars can use more custom components, from longer control arms to upgraded differentials and a larger turbo, while T4 cars retain more of the original Can-Am Maverick X3’s stock parts. Air-intake restrictor plates and a maximum allowed top speed—set in place by W2RC—further define the performance difference between the two classes. 

South Racing’s vehicles produce 10 to 15 percent less output than a stock Maverick X3 Max X RC Turbo RR’s 200 hp, but years of experience winning at Dakar—and the rest of the W2RC races—has led to the team’s extensive knowledge on how to make the competition cars much more durable, reliable, and capable than an X3 bought straight from a dealer.

South Racing's facility in Portugal, with 60 full-time employees, is where its competition Can-Am side-by-sides are built and modified.

South Racing’s facility in Portugal, with 60 full-time employees, is where its competition Can-Am side-by-sides are built and modified.

South Racing

Following the factory tour, South Racing gave us a chance to drive a dedicated T3 racer that, only a few days later, would debut at Rallye du Maroc 2023 with Rokas Baciuska, the reigning two-time World Champion in the T4 class, as its new pilot. The 23-year-old Lithuanian served as our tour guide and driving coach on a series of dirt roads that crisscrossed Portugal’s rugged terrain near the Spanish border.

Actually climbing into Baciuska’s personal T3 car requires a bit of gymnastics, though removing the steering wheel certainly helps. Once snugged in with the five-point harnesses tightened and safety nets rolled down, we find the cockpit feels perfectly roomy enough for long days in the dirt. The Can-Am’s turbocharged 900 cc engine fires up with a roar—the exhaust doing as little as possible to dampen the mill’s race-tuned responsiveness. With a larger turbo allowed for T3, and the 27 mm restrictor plate, the engine produces somewhere around 175 to 180 hp, depending on ambient temperatures. That’s a fair amount lower than the new Can-Am Maverick R, for example, but a necessity in the race series, otherwise the lightweight, nimble side-by-sides would legitimately beat million-dollar T1+ cars in almost any desert environment. 

The cockpit of one of South Racing's Can-Am Maverick X3 side-by-side racers.

Removing the steering wheel certainly helps with entry, but once secured with the five-point harnesses, we find that the cockpit feels perfectly roomy.

Michael Van Runkle

All-out, top-end power is less of a concern anyway due to the nature of rally racing, which requires peppier throttle response and a serious focus on chassis dynamics. A set of massive purple shock dampers—built by Reiger—serve as this car’s absolute highlight, providing a firmer ride than expected while nonetheless absorbing big whoops and smaller bumps with an unbelievable level of compliance. 

Whipping the Can-Am’s weight around, dipping the nose during hard braking, or squatting through hard acceleration over long dirt roads quickly becomes something of an art. Approaching the limits of damper travel only further enhances the experience. Confidence builds as we push further into throttle and brakes than ever expected while simply floating over washboards and flying along graded roads.

A close-up of the purple shock dampers on one of South Racing's Can-Am Maverick X3 side-by-side racers.

Purple shock dampers, built by Reiger, provide a firmer ride than expected while absorbing big whoops and smaller bumps with ample compliance.

Michael Van Runkle

Whether counter-steering through wide drifts or sliding sideways over ruts, even catching legitimate air, this T3 car absorbs all punishment and begs for more. Hard landings never bottom out the suspension, and surprisingly light steering helps to prevent tired hands that never rest for a second during even short stints behind the wheel.

Next, Baciuska swapped into the driver’s seat to show how a two-time world champ gets the job done. All of a sudden, the pace reaches a new level—he’s seeing the big picture, looking much farther ahead, and not even bothering to avoid rocks or ruts, trusting the race tires as he paints his canvas with a bigger brush. And yet, keeping an eye on the smallest details, he makes sure the front tires always catch the perfect angle into each dip or ditch, rears drifting up onto berms to prevent hard angles or rollovers. And the sheer amount of time spent airborne over whoops and jumps absolutely boggles the mind.

Approaching the limits of damper travel only further enhances the experience, building the confidence to push further into throttle and brakes.

Michael Van Runkle

Baciuska’s tens-of-thousands of hours racing rally cars clearly shine through, even though he’s only had about an hour in a true T3 car before our day in the sun. He’ll test this setup in Morocco, then start the 2024 points season at Dakar, where, last year, South Racing supported 27 cars in total—26 of which finished, a very impressive statistic considering the brutality of the 2023 edition.

Five of those South Racing entries made up the official Can-Am Red Bull Factory Team, with American AJ Jones taking home his second overall class victory in a row, and Baciuska himself leading into the final checkpoint of the final stage after thousands of miles of racing, before a breakdown left him finishing in second place.

A fully catered South Racing “arrive and drive” Dakar program starts at $345,000 for the race-car rental, two dedicated mechanics, engineers, parts, strategy support, food, and a motorhome for the entire event. Drivers need only bring a suit and helmet (and a copilot to navigate). The included insurance even covers the car, with a $20,000 deductible in the case of a total loss.

One of South Racing's Can-Am Maverick X3 side-by-side racers.

A fully catered South Racing “arrive and drive” Dakar program starts at $345,000.

Michael Van Runkle

South Racing sells new T3 and T4 cars all year, which cost from $128,000 to $175,000 depending on specs, as well as rebuilt versions that run from $95,000 to $105,000 for a T4, and up to $135,000 for a T3. Each comes with a holographic sticker confirming the chassis has been inspected and passed the FIA’s stringent homologation requirements. 

Then there’s South Racing’s Dakar Rally experience that includes a race car to take home afterward. That package costs in the neighborhood of $400,000 to $500,000, depending on parts and service. Not included, though, is the personal commitment and confidence required to finish.

Source: Robb Report

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