Former WRC-star Xavier Pons set to drive Ford at Dakar Rally
Spanish former FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) star Xavier ‘Xevi’ Pons is the latest driver to switch to cross-country rallying and will tackle the Dakar Rally for the first time in January 2016.
The 35-year-old Spaniard will drive a Ford Ranger run through a joint project between DMAS South Racing and Esponsorama.
Based in Germany, South Racing was founded in 2013, has workshops in Portugal and ran a Ford Ranger in the 2015 Dakar Rally for the Argentine rally driver Federico Villagra. South Racing and its strategic partner, Chilean-based DMAS Competicion, have already raced the Ford Ranger that Pons will use. It has benefited from ongoing development during the course of the year and features revised suspension, engine mapping and chassis improvements.
Esponsorama is a company owned by Raúl Romero, who is well known in the MotoGP paddock for running teams like BQR or Avintia Racing in the last 20 years of the World Championship.
Avintia Racing is competing this year with Héctor Barberá and Mike di Meglio in the MotoGP World Championship using Ducati Desmosedici GP14 motorcycles. This weekend the team will be fighting for the Open Class title in Valencia.
Born in Vic, near Barcelona, Pons has been active at the top level of rallying since 2003 and has driven for the professional Citroën, Mitsubishi and Subaru teams in the past. He won seven WRC stages in his career and amassed 51 championship points.
Pons began his career racing on two wheels and won the 1998 Spanish enduro championship, before being chosen to compete at the International Six Days Enduro with the Spanish junior team. He was part of a triumphant Spanish team in 2000 before making the switch to rallying.
He claimed the 2002 Spanish Group N gravel title and finished second in the tarmac series the following year. In 2004, he competed in both the JWRC and PWRC, winning two rounds and finishing fourth in the latter series.
After making the switch to a World Rally Car in 2005 and tackling a full WRC programme, the Catalan signed for the Kronos Total Citroën team in 2006 and partnered Sébastien Loeb.
His best WRC results include five fourth-placed finishes in events as diverse as Spain, Turkey, Sardinia, Australia and New Zealand. He returned to the series in 2010 in the SWRC category and won events in Mexico and Jordan on his way to the Super 2000 World Rally Championship title.
Pons said: “The Dakar Rally is a great challenge. I began my career on two wheels competing in several enduro series, so I have a lot of good friends and former rivals, like Marc Coma, Nani Roma, Gerard Farres, Viladoms…competing in cross-country rallying.
“I heard many stories about the Dakar and, for me, is incredible to get this great opportunity with an experienced team as South Racing and driving the Ford Ranger. I head the challenge excited and with high motivation, but we have to keep calm. I have a lot of experience in rally, but this will be my first rally-raid race, so we’ll have to go step-by-step and then we’ll see what happens.
“I want to thank all the sponsors for their support, and particularly I want to say big thank you to Raúl Romero, because without him this dream would not come true. I hope to pay them back with a good result.”
Pons will be co-driven by the Argentinean Ricardo Torlashi, who raced with Adrian ‘Chino’ Yacopini and South Racing in the 2015 Dakar Rally.
“For DMAS South Racing this is a great opportunity and I think to have a driver with the experience of Xevi, but also working with Raúl given his huge experience in MotoGP, is fantastic. This is a truly international partnership and something we have not seen in the Dakar before. I think we have good opportunities for the next Dakar and as well for the future,” said South Racing’s director Scott Abraham.
Support for Pons’s Dakar challenge comes from Air Europa, Fundación Incorpora Deportistas Solidarios and Avintia Grupo. South Racing also has support from Rudy Project, OMP, TW Steel, Gold Nutrition, Michelin, MotoGP Argentina, Argentina Tourism and Ecomac.
The revised Dakar Rally starts in Buenos Aires on January 2nd and features a demanding route through northern and central Argentina and Bolivia, before finishing in the Argentine city of Rosario on January 16th.