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Rally-Raid Network - Should Americans return to Dakar Rally?
Should Americans return to Dakar Rally?

Should Americans return to Dakar Rally?

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While several North-American drivers raced the Dakar and tried their best to score a good result, none of them tried so hard and got so famous as Robby Gordon and his Hummer. On his first attempt, no one expected him to finish on the podium, the race was too long and very different from the ones he was used to, so everybody looked at him with expectation but knew that he was facing a very steep learning curve and a lot of pain along the way.

But if the results weren't so bright in the first years, the Hummer made a huge statement. The sound it produced, the looks of the car and especially the way Robby drove it was like a bomb in an otherwise much more "polite" racing environment. We saw it a few times in Europe and it was amazing. Forget about all the others, the crowd was most anxious to see the "American", and was ready to wait for him, even if he was the last.

But the difference between the two racing worlds, the FIA/Dakar and the North American competitions, was huge. The rules, the technical challenges, the way the race develops, the navigation, the length, everything made Robby's attempt a challenge and despite some glimpses of hope and some strong attempts, success was always a bit too far away for him to get it.

And then came 2008... No Dakar! Everybody got sad. The reasons why there was no Dakar aren't relevant for this case, but the changes this cancellation made are. The first thing, the most obvious of all changes, was the continent and hemisphere change. And this single change affected the race in all the other details. The emptiness of the Sahara was now a memory, and the race morphed, at least partially in something similar to WRC rally style, especially the stages raced in Argentina. With no doubt a fantastic race by all means, but different, and for such a car as the Hummer, the challenges to overcome where even bigger than in Africa. And the South American gods went to their book of spells and threw all they have in store to the Dakar racers: narrow roads, mud, rain, water, fog, snow, wind, extreme heat, never-ending dust, even floods and avalanches. Sure that everybody got the same treatment, but for a 2WD car the size of a mansion, racing on narrow roads was not a walk in the park.
When the Hummer had the change to breathe clean air and had open spaces ahead of him, like in Peru's deserts, it was like a bullet, showing speed and flexing his suspension, but the Dakar is a long marathon and the damage the most demanding stages made to the overall results was too much to be recovered on a few easier ones.

On the positive side, the crowds of South America and their love for the sport were amazing and Robby was their hero. No wonder - no one drove like him. No one will ever forget his crazy but spectacular jumps on the starting podium. And the race needs also a good show to captivate the fans. Racing like a surgeon, perfect and clean every single time, is very professional and competitive for sure, but that doesn't catch the attention of the crowd. And we know what we say in our portal and articles there are a few words that are magic and none is related to "prefect driving style".

Nevertheless, the challenges that Robby faced were on many occasions related to the race rules and by this we speak mostly about technical rules in the cars. The Hummer came from another world and many times it looked like it was in chains, not able to "express himself freely". We should also note that apparently Robby tried too hard in taking his effort it own way and not following a more consensual path or a clear one. Remember his famous "Minis are for girls" comment at Dakar 2012 after it was found that his car had a modification of the ventilation system, linked to his engine, that, according to the stewards, improved its performance.

The fact is that despite some problems, Robby Gordon was a good ambassador both for the Dakar and for the North American competitions. On the one hand, he presented a type of car and way of racing very different and so much more spectacular to the people that were used to see the "regular" cars. On the other hand, he showed Americans that the Dakar is not unreachable, and that with the right conditions, it is within reach.
However, Robby Gordon never got to the top, and for us on the other side of the pond (should we say the Atlantic), it looked like Robby's lack of success scared the hell out of all the others. They probably thought, "why to spend so much time, effort and money and if I will never be able to win".

After all these years, the Dakar changed again in many ways, first of all moved to another continent and hemisphere once again, to the very open and wide lands of the Saudi Arabian deserts, wide enough for the American trucks. The tracks aren't WRC style anymore. Rain, mud, extreme high, all of that was left behind in South America... Well, most of it was. Sometimes the weather in Saudi also freaks out and even adds some sand storms to the mix.

So, this takes us back to the title: Should the Americans try again? We say: Yes please!!! We know what comes next, we will be grilled because we made the blasphemy saying two very different worlds should mix again. But let us defend our point: How similar can a Can-Am SSV and a T1+ Toyota be? Aren't they radically different and aren't they racing the same race? So how hard can be to open a category, even with some limitations, that allows for the Trophy Trucks come and have a go at the Dakar Rally?

The recent changes in regulations have made the Dakar Rally a type of competition where the navigation is much more important like it was for a long time. To find the right way will be (we hope) the most important detail to get to a good result, and not the "brute force" or "brute speed", after all, what's the point in being very fast if you go the wrong way? Just to get lost faster? A slow car with a good navigator could be more successful than a fast car with a bad navigator.
The second relevant change is the new improvements on T1 and the new T1+, created to level up the competition with the 2WD buggies, but that brought the top contenders a step closer to the North American cars. Now they are wider, more efficient and with longer suspensions. So, if FIA cars are "growing up", why can't the "SCORE and their relatives" be reduced a little bit to find a common ground, or should we say, a common race track?

Also, the World Championship is even moving to the Americas. The 2023 W2RC will, for the first time, visit Mexico to race the Sonora Rally. So what's the point in going to a country where, as far as we know, there aren't many drivers and cars of the FIA kind? We think the promoter of the championship may have a similar idea as ours, and should open the door to the many North American drivers. And the others, especially the Europeans, shouldn't be afraid of the Trophy Trucks. Even if they are allowed to come and try, for sure they would still have a lot to learn.

Well, all these lines are just our thoughts. We aren't defending or promoting the Trophy Trucks, but we think we all have something to gain if they get the chance to come to the Dakar Rally and other FIA races, like Rallye du Maroc. The events will become more spectacular, attract more public and set their foot in markets where they are not so relevant now, taking the sport a step further in an era where it is facing increasing challenges all over the world.

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