Rodrigo Varela, a member of a prominent Brazilian motorsport family, was all set to make his debut in the Dakar rally. However, his plans took a serious hit when he received news during Christmas that the cargo ship carrying his Can-Am UTV had been attacked by Houthi pirates in the Red Sea region. Although the ship managed to escape, it had to change its route and was now taking a longer journey around the African continent, delaying the arrival of Varela’s vehicle by 20 days. This made it impossible for him and his navigator, Bozzano, to participate in the race.
This incident was not an isolated one. Towards the end of 2023, the United States government announced an international coalition to protect cargo ships in the region. In fact, on December 31, American helicopters engaged in a battle with three vessels, resulting in the death of ten crew members. The Houthis, who are one of the main forces in the civil war in Yemen, have been opposing forces supported by Saudi Arabia and Iran. Their opposition to Israel is also a driving factor for their actions.
In order to salvage their participation in the Dakar rally, Varela’s family embarked on a race against time to find a replacement car. They found a Can-Am in Portugal owned by a driver who had come to Brazil to compete in the Sertoes Rally. However, they had to make hurried modifications and adaptations to the vehicle. Fortunately, they passed the Dakar inspection.
But the problems didn’t end there for Varela and Bozzano. Since the spare parts were also on the attacked ship, they had to rely on the help of other teams for the maintenance of their vehicle during the Dakar rally. The Dakar rally is known for its mix of racing and adventure, and solidarity among participants is a notable characteristic.
Upon arriving in Saudi Arabia, Varela faced the challenge of finding other equipment, starting with a power generator. He acknowledged that this would be the situation until the end of the race and emphasized the need to overcome challenges every day in the Dakar rally.
Despite all the difficulties, Varela and Bozzano had an impressive performance in the Prologue, which marked their official Dakar debut. They secured fifth place among the 36 UTVs registered in the T4 category. They even won a stage on Saturday. Varela expressed his gratitude to the team for their hard work and belief in their abilities.
In conclusion, Varela’s Dakar debut faced numerous obstacles due to the pirate attack on the cargo ship carrying his vehicle. However, with the help of other teams and their determination, Varela and Bozzano managed to participate in the rally and achieve commendable results.