Dakar Rally 2021: Desert Raiding With Rebellion Racing At The World’s Toughest Off-Road Race
The Dakar Rally is the most challenging and competitive test of off-road aptitude, and the global pandemic didn’t make this year’s edition any easier. Just getting to Saudi Arabia was an achievement, and we were proud to be there alongside our partners at Rebellion Racing for their second-ever attempt at the raid. The last time we went racing with Rebellion was at Le Mans this past summer, but the two endurance races are hardly similar. Both require brave, talented drivers, a deep bench of supporting staff in the garage (whether that garage be in pit lane or packed into the back of a support vehicle), strong mental and mechanical fortitude to even think about finishing, and huge amounts of behind the scenes logistics invisible to the outside view. That said, one race takes place on a paved circuit over the course of a day, while the other involves nearly two weeks of navigating changing and challenging terrain over the course of almost 5,000 miles. That’s not a knock on Le Mans, but the Dakar is a different breed of beast. Some things were very familiar to us, though, like the name on one of the Rebellion vehicle doors: Romain Dumas.
Dumas was a key piece of the team’s effort at the 24-hour race last year, and while the Rebellion R13 LMP1 car requires a different set of abilities than the Rebellion DXX buggy, there is a sizable middle section of the venn diagram. The contrast between the dunes of Saudi Arabia and the tree-lined straights of Le Mans is stark beyond just the aesthetics, but the mind and skill sets required to conquer them aren’t dissimilar.
Rallying as a whole has always enjoyed the presence of crossover artists who come over for a break or pivot away from circuit racing, and the longer-distance, more rugged rally raids have their fair share of reigning masters and emerging competitors as well. Dumas has done more than just sign up for a few events, going as far as starting a new company for the preparation and engineering of his cars: RD Limited. Dumas got his rallying start with modified Porsches for R-GT class events, but has expanded the scope of RD Limited into other rallying disciplines. For raids like the Dakar, Dumas drew on his experience driving a rear-wheel drive Peugeot buggy in previous editions of the event to design the DXX buggy, which competes in the gas-powered, two-wheel drive T1.3 class at the Dakar, a class that’s part of the comically named umbrella group “cars.” The DXX buggy is a tube frame chassis design with four dampers per corner, and though it wears a shell of composite carbon and kevlar bodywork, it’s no lightweight at roughly 3,750lbs. Colin Chapman-esque creations have no place in the Dakar. Buggies like the DXX need to be rugged enough to sustain the abuse of Mad Maxing across the desert as fast as possible, a task that’s also aided here by the 5.0L naturally aspirated Ford V8 that’s tuned to provide the class limit on horsepower (400).
Dumas debuted the DXX with Rebellion Racing (also making its first appearance) in 2020, and for the 2021 edition of the Dakar Rally, Petrolicious was proud to support our friends during the team’s second attempt at the event. When the Dakar moved to Saudi Arabia in 2020, Rebellion Timepieces also joined as the official timekeeper, a role it reprised this year. Based in Switzerland but participating and backing high-energy sports and competitions around the world, Rebellion is emerging as the Swiss answer to Red Bull in that regard—not only supporting these feats, but taking an active role in them. It’s one thing to slap a sponsorship on the Dakar Rally, another to actually do it.
Among the 500-plus cars, trucks, bikes, quads, and specialty vehicles that set off from the coastal city of Jeddah for the start of the massive 12-stage loop around Saudi Arabia were two Rebellion DXX buggies. The #351 was driven by the company’s president Alexandre Pesci and his co-driver Stephan Kuhni, who were on pace until recurring issues with the chassis forced the car to withdraw before the finish, and the #315 saw Romain Dumas and co-driver Gilles de Turckheim behind the wheel of the other DXX, finishing in 43rd place amongst the cars after 71 hours, 37 minutes, and 48 seconds of hard charging around Saudi Arabia.
Like many other singular challenges that technically fall under the same umbrella of motorsport—the Isle of Man TT being another example—the Dakar Rally has its share of masters and specialists. When the final stage was completed on Friday, Stéphane Peterhansel emerged as the winner in the cars category (earning his 14th Dakar title in doing so, exactly three decades after getting his first on a Yamaha bike in 1991), driving his X-raid Mini with co-driver and fellow Frenchman Edouard Boulanger to victory in 44 hours, 28 minutes, and 11 seconds. The bike and quad category of the 2021 Dakar ran a different overall route, and was won by the Argentinian rider Kevin Benavides, competing in his fifth Dakar.
The Rebellion Racing team showed their growth and gained experience to build on, but encountered mechanical issues that mounted to the point of withdrawal for one of the two DXX buggies on the ninth stage of the rally. The learning curve at the Dakar is one of the steeper ones to climb, and the process of perfecting the team, the machines, and the strategy is an endless one when it comes to racing, let alone racing with this many variables. The forces of luck and nature are fickle but unavoidable at times, and should they turn from bane to boon it’s always best to be as prepared as possible.
In the case of Rebellion’s effort this year, this meant having a support crew with enough tools and people to effectively rebuild the DXX buggies at the end of each stage. After a few hundred miles of racing during the day, the support team—consisting of a support truck and two others full of parts and more than a dozen crew members—would set up their temporary shop and get to work righting the buggies to do it all again in the morning.
It takes more than a driver and navigator with a few maps in the glovebox and some jerrycans lashed to the side of their dune buggy to start thinking about a Dakar attempt, and although Rebellion Racing is still a very young team, it’s a committed and promising one that we’re happy to be on the ride with. We were there with the team for the past two weeks during the rally as we filled up hard drives for an upcoming film feature documenting the triumphs, tribulations, and everything else that goes into the world’s most competitive endurance rally, so be sure to stay tuned for the premiere, as well as for our episode about another the first edition of the Dakar Classic.