Coming in hot off last year's win in the T4 category, AJ takes first place in the T3 category this year! Of the few people to win two categories, he is the youngest to do so!. THE LAST 12 MONTHS HAVE BEEN BUSY FOR THE 2022 DAKAR RALLY CHAMP WITH RACES AROUND THE GLOBE AND HIS OFFICIAL DEBUT IN THE UTV RACE SCENE THIS PAST AUGUST AT THE VEGAS TO RENO RACE. WE CAUGHT UP WITH HIM AT HIS HOME IN ARIZONA AS HE PREPARED FOR THE 2023 DAKAR RALLY.

Can-Am: Hey, AJ! Thanks for sitting with us today. We know it has been an exciting 12 months for you; what have you been up to since we last spoke with you at the 2022 Dakar Rally? 

AJ Jones: It has been a busy year for me all around! Since Dakar, I’ve been keeping myself pretty busy with projects at home and some media appearances, as well as continuing to race full time around the world.   

 


 

Can you tell us about the races you’ve competed in since Dakar? 

AJ: Sure! First was the Abu Dhabi Rally in March, followed by a few trips to the South Racing headquarters/Can-Am factory in Lisbon, Portugal, for development, testing and training. The debut of South Racing in the United States at Vegas to Reno in August was a great opportunity to see the future of racing domestically, as well as the Baja 400 in Ensenada, Mexico, where I saw the potential of the race car in a Baja racing setting. Then off to Agadir, Morocco, for the Rally of Morocco, round three of the cross-country world championship. This was in addition to the Andalusia Rally in Seville, Spain, the following week to wrap up the FIA season. Now it’s back to Mexico for the Baja 1000 where the goal is to win and become the first/only person to win the Dakar Rally and Baja 1000 in the same year. Not an easy task by any means but a challenge I’m definitely up for and excited about.   
 

We were there with you at Vegas to Reno, your first official UTV race in the US. What have you learned coming into the North American UTV scene and what have the races in the US and Mexico been like? 

AJ: It has been great getting a chance to race at home in North America again. It took a few years off to focus on rallies, and I didn’t realize how much I missed racing over here. To be around all my old friends and competitors from the past has been awesome, as well as how familiar I am with that style of racing where I learned how to drive. Vegas to Reno in the US and the Baja 400 in Mexico have been the last two. I’ve learned how to drive the car effectively on North America’s different styles of terrain; it’s not easy, but comes very naturally for me from my past experience


That’s awesome! So, with so much seat time in so many different places, that’s certainly a lot of seat time in the Can-Am Maverick X3 in so many different types of terrain. Can you tell us about your vehicle experience with the Can-Am Maverick X3 so far? 

AJ: Yeah, a lot of seat time for sure! Honestly, everything about the Can-Am Maverick X3 impresses me during such a tough and grueling race like the Dakar Rally and all the other races we’ve taken on since. The toughness and durability for the vehicle really stand out to me personally. The ability to maintain top performance after 12 days at a rally like Dakar and going as fast as possible through some of the roughest terrain and tallest dunes in the world is amazing.   

 

Back as the defending champion in the T4 class, and this year, you’re taking on a new challenge in the T3 class. What can you tell us about this transition, and have you had to adapt and familiarize yourself in a new Can-Am Maverick X3 vehicle? 

AJ: You know, I’m always up for a new challenge. The T3 car is similar, but there are a lot of things I had to change about my driving style to adapt to the new car. I’m very comfortable with the higher speeds, so I think my past racing experiences in trophy trucks will be an advantage for me entering this new class.   
 

When I’m not racing, I enjoy being home for the most part. My favorite thing to do is ride my bike and be in nature doing activities with my fiancée and my friends.

                                                                                                  Austin Jones

 

Speaking about what you’ve learned, what have you learned since the last Dakar? 

AJ: I’ve learned a lot about the cars; all my time at the workshop in Portugal has allowed me to really dive into the assembly and prep process of the cars and see the ins and outs of how they work. Also mentally, being able to compartmentalize outside distractions and learn to worry about what you can control and not worry about what you can’t control has been a huge lesson. 

 

Francisco “Chaleco” López has been your teammate, and not someone you’ve raced against in the exact same class. With you entering the T3 class, you’ll be going head to head with López. How does that impact your training, prep or racing strategy? 

AJ: Chaleco is a legend and also a good friend of mine; nothing but respect for the guy. We had a good battle at Dakar in 2021, where he took the top spot and I ended up in second, so that definitely adds motivation to be better and fix my mistakes from the past in order to have another exciting battle with him this year. I’ve learned a lot from him and think I’ll continue to do so.   
 

So, the big race is coming up fast. We’d love to know what your race preparation routine looks like. And are you planning on adjusting anything knowing you’re going up against a brand-new challenge? 

AJ: Race preparation consists of a lot of factors. Health and fitness have to be at their peak, along with miles and miles of training and driving the car as much as possible to create that muscle memory for when you’re in the actual race. As far as adjustments for the new class go, there are not many I can think of because I’m not 100% sure what the challenge will consist of, but just doing my best to be prepared is the best I can do.   
 

We always think about the race when it comes to Dakar, but we know there is a lot more that goes on behind the scenes that most people don’t know. What’s one thing people don’t know about the Dakar Rally experience that you think would really surprise them? 

AJ: Something unique about the Dakar Rally I don’t think people realize is truly how many hours we spend in the car. From the minute we wake up and exit our motorhomes to the end of the day, we’re inside the race car with the liaisons and the stages being so long. Also, the fact that we were camping in motorhomes in the bivouac, you’re always immersed in the rally’s atmosphere. 
 

We’ve heard most people listen to music while they prep for the race, or while they are waiting to race. Do you listen to music, and if so, what are you currently listening to? 

AJ: I’m always listening to music on the liaisons. My music taste is quite varied; one minute it could be a Snoop Dogg song then a Johnny Cash track right after. [Laughs] Usually I stick to rap and oldie doo-wop songs.   

 

Amazing! Thanks, AJ, for taking the time to answer our questions, and good luck at this year’s Dakar! 

AJ Jones: Anytime! 

Interview with Austin Jones, up-and-coming American racer at 2021 Dakar Rally

AJ: They're doing really well. Really just trying to get everything dialed before we leave here

AJ: Yeah, definitely. We do a lot of testing out in dunes. We have a replica of the race car that we have here in Phoenix. We take it out to the dunes and we do a lot of road book training. There's actually a decent amount of people who will make road books for us out in Nevada and Arizona and places. So we'll go out and go training quite a bit, and really just run the car as much as possible and get as many miles down.

AJ: Yeah. I've gotten a chance to go over there. I ran at a Spanish rally recently in October and when I was over there, I got a chance to go to Portugal and check out the [South Racing] shop and do quite a bit of testing over there for the new cars, the Monster Energy Racing cars. They're doing really well.

AJ: I'm really excited for it. I'm really excited because I'm familiar with the country now, Saudi Arabia, I'm a lot more familiar with the flow of the race and how a Dakar is put on, how to race a Dakar, really. I would say for 365 days, that's all I've been really thinking about is getting back over there and trying again. We thought about it a lot, and it feels a lot better going into it the second time, because I really have better idea of what to expect and stuff like that. So yeah, we're feeling pretty good about it. We're excited.

AJ: Yeah, I mean, it's just like anything else. I mean, you start off a little bit nervous and things like that, but once you start getting into it about 20 kilometers in or so, everything is just like you did it yesterday. You get the flow coming back, and you get into a nice rhythm, and everything starts falling into place. So yeah, definitely, it takes a little bit to get back into the swing of things. But I would say after about 20 kilometers on day one, we're going to be ready to go in our rhythm.

AJ: Yeah, 100%. They give us a lot of more information other than me just sitting there looking at it. They definitely help, as well as dangers too. If something doesn't look that bad, but then my navigator is telling me it's a “Double” or a “Triple Danger”. Then we know that it's a lot worse than what we see and go cautiously over it. So yeah, the notes are definitely, they're key. They're super important that we have good reliable notes and that he communicates to me well.

AJ: Yeah, I would say the consistency of it. To be able to run a good, fast pace and not make mistakes for 12 days in a row, over 250 kilometers (155 miles), usually every single day is mentally and physically exhausting. So you have to really stay on top of your game. You have to be consistent as much as possible.

One of the most important aspects is keeping everything consistent for every single day of the rally, because I can guarantee that 90% of the people, not everyone has a good day, every single day. There's going to be something that happens. So just try to keep those to a minimum and be consistent as possible is really the name of the game.

AJ: Just overall—the stance of the vehicle, that hood scoop and the roll cage design. When I very first started racing, they were very tall. And now they've brought it down quite a bit, and made it a little bit more of a sleeker look. And that might give a bit more speed. So just things like that.

 

AJ: Yeah, definitely. In North America, it's not a several day race. It's a one day race so it's very different. I mean, there's not, “Okay, we'll get them tomorrow” or “We can have a bad day today and then we'll have a really good day next time” and stuff like that. It's really just “Go, go, go!”

So definitely, with that, the more you go fast, obviously the easier it is to break things. Just bringing that little bit of that rally mentality of basically taking the Baja 1000, for example, and splitting it up mentally into stages, say, 250 miles a piece. So you check off the stage: we have this section to this section, check it off. Splitting up races in my mind and creating stages is really been something that I brought back from rally aspect that helps quite a bit.

AJ: Yeah, yeah. 100% just like, “We maybe lost a minute there or we gained a minute there.” And so the next race, we can go into it with a strategy and we can adapt it on the fly: “We just did that section fast, so we should maybe slow it down for this next 250 miles.” And then the next one we'll see where we're at.

Or likewise, we got a flat tire, we lost five minutes over here. “So this next 250, this stage here, let's go ahead and push.” So yeah, it definitely helped quite a bit to learn how to do that and just kind of compartmentalize the race mentally. And I got all that from rally.

AJ: Other than really my dad and my mom, all my friends that I went to school with and things like that, they're not fully aware of even how it works. I'll show them the map and they'll be like, “You do all of this? You go around the entire country?”

And I'm like, “Yeah, man!” And they're like, "You race day after day after day?"

It's definitely a foreign concept to a lot of people in America, so it's definitely hard to explain, but yeah, it’s clear once we really show them the map and kind of explain everything like that. I like to compare it to the Tour de France. A lot of people understand it like that.

AJ: I think that a really good way to describe it is it's a lot more mental than people think. It's a lot more than just driving a car. Obviously, your car position and your aggressiveness and things like that and driving ability are huge. I mean, that's obviously the name of the game.

However, the mental aspect of it, being able to be consistent, being able to stay calm when not every single thing is going perfect.

Being able to deal with situations on the fly, say that your brakes are going out or something like that, steering isn't completely right, then to being able to adapt and overcome. It takes a lot more than just driving the car really fast. You have to have good predictability of the maneuvers of the vehicle.

It's a lot more thinking than just driving a car through the desert really, really fast. It's complicated.

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