Led by defending SSV champ Austin Jones, U.S. contenders charge into 2023 Dakar Rally


More than two dozen Americans will be racing in the 2023 Dakar Rally, including two of the three U.S. champions in the prestigious rally raid event.

Austin Jones will return after winning a T4 championship in the SSV category of the off-road endurance racing classic’s 45th edition.

This will be the fourth consecutive trip to Saudi Arabia for the Dakar Rally, which has a longer, more adventurous route that will cover nearly 8,000 kilometers this year.

HOW TO WATCH THE DAKAR RALLY: Nightly coverage on Peacock starting Jan. 1

ENTRY LIST: Click here for the list of competitors in the Dakar Rally

There are 14 stages (up two from 2022) and nearly 5,000 kilometers of “specials” (which involve racing against the clock) – the longest competitive distance since 2014. The grueling route will include four days in the Empty Quarter, the vast desert that will be explored with a marathon stage.

Honda rider Ricky Brabec, who became the first American to win a Dakar Rally championship in 2020 and finished second in ‘21, leads a stacked U.S. field in the bikes division.

Mason Klein (ninth last year) and Skyler Howes also should be in championship contention, and Petr Vlcek, Jacob Argubright, Kyle McCoy, Paul Neff, David Pearson, James Pearson, Morrison Hart and Lawrence Ace Nilson also are on the entry list as U.S. representatives.

Austin Jones (Marcin Kin/Red Bull Content Pool).

California native Seth Quintero will return in the lightweight prototype category after winning a record 12 stages (including 10 consecutive) in the 2022 Dakar Rally. In a new pairing of the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team and Can-Am, Quintero and Jones (who also goes by “A.J.”) will be T3 teammates racing Maverick X3s that are built by South Racing (which won the T4 championship with Jones last year).

American Mitch Guthrie also is racing for the Red Bull Junior Team (with U.S. co-driver/navigator Kellon Walch).

Supercross and motocross veteran Andrew Short, who finished eighth in bikes last year, will return in a new role this year as a navigator in the T4 division.

The Americans will face some new wrinkles in the 2023 Dakar Rally. The event will feature the debut of digital roadbooks in all categories, and stage winners will be granted time compensation for the first time, putting them at less of a disadvantage when starting the next stage.

The 2023 Dakar Rally will begin with an 11-kilometer special prologue Dec. 31 that will set the starting order for the opening stage.

Daily coverage of the Dakar Rally, including updates, interviews and feature, will be available at 6:30 p.m. ET on Peacock starting Jan. 1. NBC Sports digital platforms also will have Dakar coverage.

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance
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LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).