Team Nextel Can-Am Uses Rally of Morocco Victory To Prepare For Dakar

In November, we shared with you the news of Team Nextel Can-Am winning big at the Rally of Morocco in our blog “BRP’s Can-Am Commander Wins Morocco Rally.” Like many of you, we wanted to know more about the racers and what it’s like to race in an extreme desert environment. We also asked Team Nextel to share some information on his next desert challenge. That’s right, the team will take on Dakar, arguably the world’s toughest desert race, in South America.

 
Can-Am racer Francisco Lopez, 32, spends a lot of time riding his Can-Am vehicles. He owns two Renegade 800 models, one DS 650, and two Commander side-by-sides He traveled a long way from his home in Chile, South America, to take part in the Rally of Morocco. But although he traveled far, winning the race wasn’t a far off dream.

 

 “I had always wanted to be able to race in Africa someday,” Lopez said. “The scenery, the people, and the thousands of miles of sand dunes made this an indescribable experience.”

Piloting a Can-Am Commander 1000 X, Lopez and his partner Claudio Troncoso won the Rally of Morocco in the UTV category after driving 2,000 kilometers. Lopez and Troncoso were the only SxS team to complete all six stages of the 2011 Morocco Rally.

“People who love and are passionate about rally racing feel that racing in Morocco is a dream come true,” he added.


Although Lopez was overly thrilled to win the Morocco Rally, he said the race was really more a preparatory effort for Dakar.

“Our goal in this race was to test our machines that we’ve been preparing in Spain for our race in Dakar,” he said. “The only expectation we had was to have a good race and be able to fix any problems that came up.”

But it was during the race that Lopez and Troncoso realized the Commander handled really well in the sand and didn’t present them with any issues.


“It was a very competitive and even race between all the machines. We finished in the top 20, which was unexpected considering our competitors were driving 5,000cc machines,” Lopez explained. “Reaching our goal gave us tremendous satisfaction. It was a tough year of preparation, and our whole team put a lot of work into this goal. So to be able to finish one of the toughest races in the world is a victory for all of us who are crazy enough to face Dakar.”

Racing across tough desert terrain is something a lot of off-road vehicle owners aren’t used to. But Lopez said Chile’s natural landscape helped the team prepare for the terrain in Morocco.

“In Chile we have the most barren desert in the world [the Atacama desert], so we felt very comfortable driving on the dunes. This type of terrain is an advantage for us already because we know how to drive on sand and we know the precautions you need to take,” he explained.

And despite the difficult terrain, tricky sand dunes, number of competitors and sheer size of the landscape, Lopez said the team’s time actually improved in the Moroccan desert.


“This kind of desert considerably helps your time,” he said. “We were able to put ourselves in the top 20 overall. Behind us were brands like BMW, Nissan and Mini, and they couldn’t believe that a 1,000cc machine could compete with them.”

Other than navigating the treacherous desert during the race, Lopez didn’t have much free time to explore Morocco, something he says he would have liked to do.



“The races started at 6 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m. We only really had time to organize and prepare the Commander for the following day,” he said.

After the race, Lopez returned to South America and his “real” life, where he is the CEO of South American technology company Synapsis. Next up for Team Nextel Can-Am is Dakar, where Lopez and the team will race on one of the world’s most grueling off-road stages. The Dakar race runs from January 1 to January 16. It starts in Argentina, passes through Chile, and ends in Peru. Team Nextel Can-Am will be comprised of three Commander SxS vehicles and two Renegade ATVs. Look for our blog on Dakar after the race concludes in January.

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And for our Spanish-speaking riders, here’s our interview with Lopez in Spanish. Enjoy!

Tell us all about the rally.
Lopez: Para quienes nos gusta y apasiona el mundo del Rally correr en marruecos es un sueño. Durante años fue la principal carrera del mundo en el CrossCountry. Es una carrera de 3 mil Kilómetros en 6 días donde recorres diferentes terrenos ( montañas, Ríos, Piedra y Arena) Este año participaron 600 corredores en las diferentes categorías.

What was it like to be in Morocco?
Lopez: Siempre quise poder correr algún día en África, este año puedo cumplir este sueño, los paisajes, su gente y los miles de kilómetros de dunas son una sensación indescriptible.

How did it feel to win?
Lopez: Nuestro objetivo en esta carrera era ir a probar los vehículos que estamos preparando en España para correr el Dakar. La única expectativa que teníamos era solamente poder realizar una buena prueba y corregir todos los detalles que aparecieran, en el transcurso de la carrera nos dimos cuenta que el Commander andaba muy bien y que no presentaba grandes problemas, habían etapas que competíamos de igual a igual con los autos y nos posicionábamos entre los 20 mejores de la general de autos, ubicación que era inesperada pensando que nuestros competidores tenías motores de 5.000cc.

Llegar a la meta fue una tremenda satisfacción, fue un año duro de preparación donde junto a todo el equipo hemos puesto mucho trabajo en sacar este proyecto adelante y lograr terminar en un UTV uno de los rally más duros del mundo es un premio para todos ellos que nos llena de ilusión para enfrentar el Dakar.

How was riding in the desert different than where you usually ride?
Lopez: En Chile tenemos el desierto más árido del Mundo ( Desierto de Atacama ) por tanto nos sentimos muy cómodos manejando en las dunas, este tipo de terreno es una ventaja para nosotros ya que conocemos como se maneja en la arena y los cuidados que tenemos que tener.

Did riding in the desert help or hurt your times?
Lopez: Las etapas de Desierto ayudo considerablemente nuestro andar, logramos ubicarnos en estas etapas entre los primeros 20 de la clasificación general, solo por delante de nosotros estaban escuderías del tamaño BMW, Nissan y MINI donde no podían creer que un vehículo de 1000cc les compitiera de igual a igual.

Where are you from?
Lopez: Soy Chileno – Español, actualmente vivo en Chile pero por razones laborales me tocó vivir en Colombia, Perú. Brasil y España

How old are you and how did you get started racing?
Lopez: Tengo 32 años y llevo 15 años en el mundo del OffRoad

What type(s) of Can-Am products do you own? What is your favorite model and why?
Lopez: Tengo 2 renegade 800, 1 Ds650 y 2 Commander. La renegade me encanta pero tengo que reconocer que manejar un commander en carrera es una sensación increíble

When you are not racing, what do you do in your free time? Do you have another job? Do you have a family?
Lopez: Soy el CIO de “Synapsis”, empresa de Tecnología en Latinoamérica

What did you do in Morocco when you weren’t racing? Did you get to sightsee? Lopez: No tuvimos mucho tiempo de poder recorrer marruecos, las carreras partían a las 6 am y terminábamos a las 6 pm, solo teníamos tiempo para organizar y preparar el commander para largar el día siguiente.

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