American drivers proudly carrying the flag for Red Bull at Dakar Rally, ‘Olympics of off-road’


The Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA had Monday “off” at the Dakar Rally — spreading American gospel at breakneck speed instead of scorching Saudi Arabian sand at 135 mph.

“Rest day is press day,” Mitch Guthrie Jr. told NBC Sports during one of countless interviews Monday with teammates A.J. Jones and Seth Quintero. “There are a lot of cameras and things to do, but overall, we try to catch up on sleep.

“It’s the little things like doing our laundry, eating some good food and trying to rest as much as we can. It’s a long rally, so today is really nice for us.”

So what constitutes good food during a two-weeks odyssey that will cover nearly 8,000 kilometers through gaping canyons, massive dunes and rugged mountains?

“McDonald’s,” Guthrie laughed.

That sounds natural for a Dakar that has had a distinctly American flavor for its 45th running.

The world’s most famous rally raid event has featured another strong showing by the Stars and Stripes in Saudi Arabia. Ricky Brabec and Casey Currie became the first U.S. winners of the prestigious off-road endurance race when Dakar made its Middle East debut three years ago, and the Yanks are threatening another double U.S. crown this year.

CATCHING UP ON THE DAKAR RALLY: Stage 8 recap and results from the first week

In the bikes category, overall leader Skyler Howes and upstart Mason Klein have been delivering championship-level consistency. And partnered with Can-Am in the T3 lightweight prototype class, the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA has pulled its podium weight with multiple threats for the title in Maverick X3s built by South Racing.

Through eight of 14 stages, Jones (the Stage 2 winner) is only 3 minutes and 19 seconds behind overall leader Guillaume De Mevius. Quintero is a little more than hour behind but still within striking distance in third place.

Dakar Rally American
Red Bull Off-Road Junior team USA teammates Seth Quintero (left) and A.J. Jones converse during Monday’s rest day of the 2023 Dakar Rally DPPI / Red Bull Content Pool).

And though mechanical problems knocked Guthrie from running for the overall title, he has a team-leading two stage victories and led the overall standings through Stage 4.

With local enthusiasm growing for the Dakar Rally’s fourth consecutive trip to Saudi Arabia, Jones (who became the latest U.S. champion with a T4 SSV win last year) senses U.S. inroads, too.

Dakar Rally American
Mitch Guthrie Jr. of the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA (Marcelo Maragni / Red Bull Content).

“We’ve made more awareness of Dakar and rally raid racing in the United States and hopefully more guys and girls start coming over and trying it out because it’s fun,” Jones, 26, told NBC Sports. “I think our American success really inspires a lot of Americans to come over here. For a long time, it was pretty European-based and kind of dominated by Europeans. I think with the more success the bike guys have, that we have, people will start getting inspired over there in America and think we should come over and try this as well.”

There are more than two dozen Americans entered in the 2023 Dakar Rally, and the hometown hero connections should help build its following.

Jones and Guthrie both grew up in families that embraced off-road racing.

“That’s the kind of cool part about doing this rally stuff now is we have so much support at home,” said Guthrie, who’s from Glendora in Southern California. “We know so many people in the off-road community, and now that we’re here racing it, all of those people that support us are always following it and know so much more about it.

“I just think it’s cool kind of teaching everyone what it’s like here. I think until you actually come experience it for yourself, you don’t really know what it’s like, but it’s cool to slowly teach my parents and family and everyone what it’s all about and how it works.”

It also helps to have success. Last year, the U.S. banner prominently was carried by Jones and Quintero, who set a Dakar record by winning 12 stages (including 10 consecutive). The 20-year-old from San Marcos, California, has seen the Dakar appeal grow.

“I think just with all three of us and Ricky and Skyler and Mason all being here, it’s given Dakar a bigger presence in the United States,” said Quintero, who won Stage 5. “A lot more people are wanting to come out and race, which we can all be very proud of that to help put Dakar to the map in the United States. Before Ricky and Casey and whoever else was racing before our time, you didn’t really hear too much about Dakar. It’s been awesome to see the United States come back and be really present in Dakar, and obviously, we’ve got a lot of the bike guys that are very, very fast. Mason is absolutely killing it for being privateer basically and racing the big boys. So major props to him but also hoping to see more Americans year after year. It’s awesome to see the support.”

Dakar Rally American
With a T3 car bearing the U.S. flag, Seth Quintero attacks the sand during Stage 3 of the 2023 Dakar Rally (Flavien Duhamel / Red Bull Content Pool). 

Quintero has ambitions of reaching the premier T1-plus category “within the next year, two years max.” If he can race in the high-profile division against Dakar Rally legends such as Carlos Sainz, Stephane Peterhansel and Nasser Al-Attiyah, Quintero believes it would be a next-level breakthrough at an event that draws more than a thousand competitors across 68 nationalities.

“People watch the Olympics and they root for their country, and this is basically the Olympics of off-road,” Quintero said. “It kind of gives America someone to follow during the race to support their country and be excited about it.

“All of us are on the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team to take the next step into T1-plus and battle against the greats. This is the learning curve to be ready for that, and I’m really, really pushing for it. I think it’s time for one of us to step up and be in the premier class.”

That likely would mean joining a racing powerhouse (such as Team Audi or Toyota Gazoo Racing), but Quintero also won’t rule out making the jump with his team. “Red Bull is a pretty powerful company,” he said. “I’d love to join one of the major manufacturers of course, but Red Bull’s always got some crazy ideas, and we’ll see what’s up their sleeve.”

Quintero was in good spirits Monday after a rough Stage 8 that “threw a bunch of little curveballs at us.”

With 100 kilometers remaining, his windshield was smashed when a passing T1 got sideways and kicked up some rocks in its wake. That eventually resulted in a flat tire (a virtually daily annoyance for Dakar drivers).

Early in the stage, Quintero was slowed by some brutal impacts.

“We run a halo on the seats that we have according to FIA rules, and a couple of times I ended up hitting my head pretty hard on it and saw some stars for a while,” he said. “Yesterday, one of them was pretty bad to the point that I basically had to stop the car and kind of went a little black and blue for a second, but we’re all good. We’ve got helmets on and all the safety gear on. It was just a little knock to the head. We’re all good and ready for the next couple of days.”

They were the worst of several hard hits through the first week that Quintero chalked up just being part of Dakar – which competitors enter knowing they almost certainly will crash and possibly get injured at some point.

“Exactly; for rally raid, it’s really not an ‘if,’ it’s ‘when,’ ” Quintero said. “All of us can always have a bad day or a bad crash. You kind of expect the worst and hope for the best, but it’s a fun time.”

Guthrie’s 2023 Dakar Rally has reaffirmed the event’s ups and downs. Entering Stage 5 with the overall lead, Guthrie lost a few hours waiting on a repair truck when his steering rack seized up. After replacing the part, a clutch failure in the dunes forced Guthrie to exit the stage – incurring a major penalty that left him 25 hours off the lead.

A Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA mechanic works underneath Mitch Guthrie Jr.’s car during the rest day (Marcelo Maragni / Red Bull Content Pool).

He finished a fifth, first and third in the next three stages – a rebound reminiscent of Quintero losing 17 hours in the second stage of the 2022 event.

“It’s definitely unfortunate, but we’re stilling having a lot of fun, too,” Guthrie, 26, said. “It’s gone well so far. If we can put Stage 5 behind us and look at everything else, we’re definitely happy.

“I think all of us have been through it at some point. This rally is crazy. So even when you have a good rally, there’s still bad things that happen throughout the whole time. In past years I’ve raced it, I’ve had plenty of issues, so I’ve kind of gotten used to it at this point, unfortunately.

“It’s just racing. You never know what’s going to happen out there. We travel thousands and thousands and thousands of miles through the desert where most cars would never go. So things are bound to happen.”

After missing last year’s Dakar because of a positive COVID-19 test just before departing for Jeddah, Guthrie is just happy to be back for his third Dakar start.

He has shown flashes since his 2020 debut, winning a few stages, but has been unable to reach the finish line of the grueling event.

“I just think we’re really lucky being a part of this team,” Guthrie said. “The first year I showed up and did Dakar, I knew absolutely nothing. And there’s so much to learn.

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Mitch Guthrie is making his third start in the Dakar Rally (Kin Marcin / Red Bull Content Pool).

“You have to have some years with ups and downs of learning and struggling. Just for Red Bull to give us the chance to do that is awesome because if we were just to try to come here by ourselves to figure it out, we probably wouldn’t have enough money, time and support. We’re all comfortable now, but it’s been a big stepping stone, and just thankful for the opportunity from Red Bull.”

Jones entered the Red Bull team this year through his deal with Can-Am. Though the Phoenix, Arizona, native plans to stay with the category in the short-term, he shares Quintero’s T1 ambitions and believes he is turning heads with the move from T4 to T3 (viewed as more prestigious because of its faster race production cars rather than the customer-type vehicles of SSV).

“Though they’re different classes, and there are some technical differences, but I’ve got a lot of time in these Can-Ams, so it wasn’t really that different,” Jones said. “It was a little bit tough the first couple of days to figure out some things, but my navigator Gustavo has figured out everything new on it. So the transition was easy.

“Right now I’m super happy with Can-Am; they’ve been treating me well the last couple of years. So I’ll do whatever they want the next couple of years at least. For sure one day, it would be awesome to get behind the wheel of a T1-plus and fight with (Seth) in a different class and probably (Mitch), too.”

For now, though, the focus is on winning T3 this year. In Stage 8, Jones put the heat on leader Guillaume De Meviers, gaining several minutes after noticing during a refueling that the Belgian driver was down to his last spare (the UTV drivers generally carry two extra tires per stage).

The Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA (which also is aligned with Spaniard Cristina Gutierrez Herrero of the Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team) held a team meeting Monday about how to deploy teamwork over the second week of the rally.

Dakar Rally American
A.J. Jones and navigator Gugelmin Gustavo share a laugh during the 2023 Dakar Rally (Flavien Duhamel / Red Bull Content Pool).

“We’ve got a couple of tricks up our sleeve that we’re going to start implementing,” Jones said. “Rally raid is more of a team sport than people think. So having us three in three separate cars starting all over the grid like how we are for the next couple of days, there’s a couple of things that we can do here and there to try to put some pressure on the leader and try to push ourselves a little bit further. I can’t say it, though, it’s top secret.”

Quintero plans “to do everything I can to help A.J., and I’m sure it’ll be vice-versa.

“It’s nice to be halfway through and still be in the hunt for the overall,” Quintero said. “An hour in rally raid is not a lot of time at all. I’m excited to continue to have the rest of this week and hopefully make up a few more positions.”

Seth Quintero is hoping a T3 overall victory will help him realize his goal of reaching the T1-plus category of the Dakar Rally within the next two years (Marcelo Maragni / Red Bull Content Pool).

IndyCar Preseason, Day 2: Helio Castroneves addresses racing future, says 2023 is ‘huge’


PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – Entering what could be the final season of his NTT IndyCar Series career, there is one race that Helio Castroneves of course has circled as key to the future.

And it surely could cinch his plans with another record-breaking win.

“It’s obviously the big one – it’s Indianapolis 500,” the four-time Indy 500 winner said during preseason media interviews last week. “That’s the one that we feel that we have the same car. We have all our bets onto that. However, I’m not going to give up on the other ones, either. I feel that we have as much of a chance as anybody in some places that I feel comfortable. Finishing in the top 12 (in points) would be a great goal.

“However, we want to be able to have a podium. We want to be able to show what we can get, and we can.”

A MAN IN FULL: Helio Castroneves as the businessman and budding team owner

Castroneves signed a one-year deal to return to Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 06 Dallara-Honda after finishing 18th in the 2022 standings, a career worst for the Brazilian over a full year in IndyCar. Castroneves managed a season-best seventh in the Indy 500 (recovering from a crash in testing) and only two other top 10s in 17 starts.

It marked the first time since Castroneves entered the CART ChampCar Series in 1998 that he failed to finishi on the podium during a full-time season (he competed part time in 2018-20 while running full time in IMSA).

Though he dodged questions about how critical results would be to keeping his seat beyond 2023, Castroneves concedes it’s a “huge” season for him. MSR has reshuffled the lineup with new “data people” and a new engineer for Castroneves, who will turn 48 in May. Though MSR already was facing challenges last season in adding a second full-time car along with Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud, the expectations are high for a swift turnaround.

Helio Castroneves at The Thermal Club test (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment).

“Everyone understands when you’re going through, even if it’s one year, people think it’s a long time, but hey, we’re talking about teams that’s been together for a long, long time, years of experience and communication and everybody is in sync,” said Castroneves, who made six starts (including his fourth Indy 500 win) for MSR in 2021.

“Even though for us we did 2021, all those people were part-timers, and we have to start all over again. That was the first time that we had two cars in the team. There was a lot of dynamics changing. Now we are continuing to move forward. It’s important for us to be part of this process, be patient. Yeah, I can’t wait when things start to connect so we can show at the racetrack.”

Beyond coming off a dismal year and racing into his late 40s against drivers who are more than 20 years his junior, the stakes also are high for Castroneves because there’s a high-profile and obvious candidate to supplant him in 2024.

Tom Blomqvist, who teamed with Castroneves to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona for the second consecutive season, has drawn high praise for his championship-level performance in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s premier prototype category. He also has a keen interest in racing IndyCar and tested for MSR last October.

It’s led to some speculation that MSR could broker a trade between its IndyCar and IMSA teams that could swap Blomqvist for Castroneves next year.

AUTO: JAN 29 IMSA Rolex 24 Daytona
Helio Castroneves celebrates after being part of the overall winning team in the Rolex 24 at Daytona for the third consecutive year (David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

“First of all, it’s too early to say,” Castroneves said. “Second, I don’t want anything more than great things for this team. This team is incredible. They already stamped that they’re not just a small team. They stamped that they’re an incredible team. That things amazing (are) about to happen in the future.

“Tom, come on, the kid is a superstar. He’s really quick. He’s doing an amazing job. Last year he did a great job; this year continued doing it. Let’s see. Everything happens and falls natural. But as of right now, it’s too early in the season to predict and think what’s going to happen. Our goal is to have a phenomenal result with MSR so that we can show what this team is capable.”

Castroneves already has resurrected his IndyCar career once (it seemed he was done as a full-time driver after 2017 until his Brickyard triumph), and the “Dancing With The Stars” winner seems ageless, so it’s hard to bet against him or his will to keep driving – especially after three consecutive Rolex 24 victories.

“Do you think I’m thinking retiring right now?” Castroneves said while cracking a smile. “There is no … there isn’t a thought of that. It has to feel natural. I can’t force myself. I can’t put a number or date that I can say this is it. As of right now, I am enjoying very much what I’m doing. I’m about to start a great season with IndyCar, and my mind is only thinking about that. I’m just going to continue working and get that result that I really want, that I know I’m capable and I know what the team is capable. Whatever happens in the future remains to be seen.”

In the short-term, he is taking a positive outlook that he and Pagenaud can improve on MSR’s struggles with tire wear last season. Though his speeds were average in preseason testing at The Thermal Club (Castroneves was 18th fastest on the second day), Castroneves believes the alliance with Andretti Autosport will bear more results in 2023.

2023 Gold Meets Golden 10th Anniversary Year Event - Arrivals
After last week’s preseason test at The Thermal Club, Helio Castroneves attended the 2023 Gold Meets Golden 10th Anniversary Year Event at Virginia Robinson Gardens in Beverly Hills, California (Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic).

“You’re always looking for improvement,” he said. “The good news is we finished 18th last year in the championship. That’s not a place that we want to be. However, we feel there was some areas that we felt we could have better results, but racing is unpredictable, as always. But we’re only looking forward, and we feel we’re going to have a much better season. The expectation is obviously always to do well, but also we understand the possibility of things not going according to the plan.

“But I feel the plan is that. It takes some time to collect some of the informations that we want, our alliances with Andretti Autosport also is still very strong. They also know that they need to improve. It’s not only in our organization. We still keep pushing each other so that we can have a better result like we had or that Andretti had in the past. They have their own engineers, their own resources, they translate it to us, and we’re looking forward to having a much better season, and let’s hope for the best.”

A roundup of other nuggets from the second day of IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities Feb. 1 at the Palm Springs Convention Center:

With Team Penske having announced a sponsor extension with Verizon, the future seems secure for defending series champion Will Power (who had signed a long-term extension in 2021) after a tumultuous offseason for the No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet driver. Power fractured ribs in a go-karting crash (but was able to heal quickly) and also had to withdraw from his Rolex 24 debut last month after his wife, Liz, was hospitalized.

Will Power confirmed she was back home and “much better than (mid-January), but I think we’ll know for sure in five weeks whether her blood stays sterile. She’s improved significantly from (being) in pretty bad shape.”

The elimination of double points for the Indy 500 could change the calculus of this season’s championship race, but Josef Newgarden already had designs on a major alteration. The two-time series champion, who has finished runner-up in three consecutive seasons, said his 2023 goal is to end IndyCar’s 17-year streak of determining the champion in the season finale.

“It gnaws at me for sure,” the Team Penske star, who had a series-high five wins to Power’s one in 2022, said of his recent misses to add a third title. “It’s annoying, there’s no doubt. How could you not be frustrated by it? I try and take the frustration and just put it into motivation. How are we going to build a bigger (points) gap where that’s not even possible? I don’t even want to be messing with it at the end of the year. In an ideal world, if we get to the end of a season where we don’t have to mess with the gap, if we can just get that out of the way, that would be ideal. That’s where my mindset is at, how do we get to that place where it’s not even on the table. It’s just done.

“I’m not arrogant enough to believe that that’s easy. It seems near impossible these days to do that. I think that’s valid. It’s very difficult to do that. I understand that. But I still want to find a way where we can get to a place where we don’t have to mess with it. I do not think that will be easy whatsoever, but we need to figure out how to do that. I am so positive, when we get a year where we get good timing paired with great speed and decisions, it will be a great year. It will be really great. Much better than what we had last year.”

The announcement of Conor Daly attempting to make his Daytona 500 debut (along with other Cup races for TMT) had been foreshadowed last week by the Ed Carpenter Racing driver. Unlike Castroneves, who had mulled racing Daytona with the same team, Daly said he can’t be selective about his opportunities. “I chatted with a young man by the name of Helio Castroneves earlier, and I think for him an opportunity like that could probably come about really anytime,” Daly said. “But for me, I don’t know if an opportunity like that would come again. I have done a lot in my life by (saying) ‘You know what, if there is a chance to do it, might as well do it.’ So who knows what might happen. But if there is a chance, I feel like I can’t not do it, or not try to do it at least.”

Daly finished 34th at the Roval in his Cup debut last year with the team and also has starts in the Xfinity and truck series. “The Cup car isn’t as physical to drive, but it’s still hot and still gets the heart going,” he said. “So, yeah, it was a great experience to be able to do. Not the smoothest experience, I will say, but really cool to get to do that and be a part of the NASCAR Cup Series and hopefully obviously shine some light on the IndyCar Series as well. I think we deserve more attention than we have got in the past. I hope we continue to get more in the future. Obviously people still want to do these races in this series that we’re a part of. Kyle Larson is coming to do the Indy 500. Everyone wants to see that.”

Though Jimmie Johnson has admitted he “never found the knife’s edge” during his two-year stint in IndyCar, Scott Dixon said he’ll be missed as a teammate. “I think anybody that knows Jimmie well, he’s a great person,” Dixon said. “He’s a fun guy to hang out with. I think what he brought to the team, whether it was on the sponsor side to his competitiveness and competition side and info, not just information but kind of his history of being so successful I think really helped with the team.

“For me it was probably more so on just the friendship side of hanging out with him. I think that was in Nashville where he was kind of talking about maybe not coming back, but I was like, ‘Come on, man, you’ve got to make sure you can get the deal together and come back.’ Obviously we can see that he’s moved on to different pastures, and a lot of exciting stuff for him that’s coming up.”

Dixon still believes Johnson could return for the Indy 500 but probably not until next year with NASCAR and Le Mans on his plate for 2023. “Maybe he’s already punted until next year, I don’t know,” Dixon said. “But he wants to do (the Indy 500 again). It’s just timing. It’s very difficult, and especially with the Garage 56 entry and all that kind of stuff, there’s a lot going on, especially around that period of time.”