It has been a decade since little buggies with reduced displacement made their Dakar debut.
The phenomenon has grown substantially since then, attracting drivers and crews who can now take part without jumping directly into the deep end and with steadily improving reliability and performance.
The 33 vehicles expected to start the race in Lima represent a quantitative and qualitative leap for the class, which was officially recognised two years ago.
Brazil remains undefeated in this category, with Leandro Torres winning in 2017 and Reinaldo Varela last January, but there are some exciting new challengers who could silence the samba beat in the deserts of Peru.
Two Dakar quad winners, Ignacio Casale (2014 and 2018) and Sergey Karyakin (2017), are ready to romp onto the stage in their new vehicles, while two former motorbike podium finishers, Gerard Farrés (3rd) in 2017) and comeback kid Francisco “Chaleco” López (3rd) in 2010 and 2013) also have a shot at glory in the S×S class.
Among the new guns fielded by ambitious maker Can-Am (and prepared by South Racing), one of the Maverick X3 drivers capable of succeeding Reinaldo Varela on the throne could be Casey Currie, one of the most talented off-road drivers in America.
However, the Xtreme Plus Polaris team will take the fight to their rivals with Frenchman Éric Abel as a credible outsider in light of his resume (winner of the Merzouga Rally in 2013 and runner-up in 2018), as well as Ronald Basso, who is making his return after a series of solid performances in the car category.
As well as team leader Ignacio Casale, Yamaha will be banking on Peruvian Alexis Hernández —another veteran of the quad category— as well as two all-female crews.
Camelia Liparoti and Annett Fisher will be competing alongside the wives of two multiple-time Dakar champions: Nani Roma’s partner Rosa Romero and Andrea Peterhansel, who finished fifth in a Mitsubishi 15 years ago, when her husband claimed his first car title.