As the defending champion of the Dakar Rally in the T4 class, AJ Jones is no stranger to pressure and endurance. 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. Now he prepares to take on the 2023 Dakar Rally in the T3 Class. We caught up with him at his home in Arizona as he prepares 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! 

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