Brazilian duo survive pirate attack on cargo ship to take part in Dakar

Brazilian duo survive pirate attack on cargo ship to take part in Dakar

Everything seemed ready for Varela’s Dakar debut. A member of a traditional Brazilian motorsport family, the South American Rally Raid champion was preparing to compete for the first time in the biggest rally-raid in the world, alongside navigator Bozzano, when the project suffered a serious blow. 

During Christmas time with his family in Brazil, Varela received news that the cargo ship carrying his Can-Am UTV to Dakar had been attacked by Houthi pirates in the Red Sea region. 

The ship managed to escape the pirates, but to do so it had to divert from its route, and was now going around the African continent en route to its final destination. This was going to increase the arrival time by 20 days, making the pair’s participation in the race unfeasible. 

The case was not an isolated incident. At the end of 2023, the United States government announced an international coalition to protect cargo ships in the region. On December 31, American helicopters engaged in battle with three vessels, killing ten crew members. 

The Houthis are one of the main forces in the civil war that began in 2012 in Yemen, where forces supported by Saudi Arabia and Iran are opposed. Another banner that drives the Houthis is opposition to Israel, due to the war against Hamas. 

To avoid the disappointment of not competing in the Dakar, Rodrigo’s family began a race against time in search of a replacement car. The answer came in Portugal. 

“We located a Can-Am in Portugal, owned by a driver who came to Brazil to compete in Sertoes Rally with us,” said Varela. “But we had to make modifications and adaptations in a hurry. Fortunately, it worked and we passed the Dakar inspection.” 

#416 Can-Am: Rodrigo Varela and Enio Bozzano

Photo by: Victor Eleutério

#416 Can-Am: Rodrigo Varela and Enio Bozzano

But as the spare parts were also on the attacked ship, Varela and Bozzano’s problems did not end there. 

“We still don’t have all the parts we will need during the Dakar, which requires a lot of maintenance. To do this, we are counting on the help of other teams. The Dakar is a mix of racing and adventure. And this makes solidarity one of its most notable brands. People help each other when they can.” 

Upon arriving in Saudi Arabia, Rodrigo began the arduous task of finding other equipment to participate in the race, starting with the power generator. 

“It will be like this until the end,” he said. “With the correct planning, which we had before the incident, it would have been very difficult to compete in the race. But that’s what the Dakar is: you have to overcome yourself every day.” 

And even with the problems, Varela and Bozzano had a surprising performance in the Prologue, which marked their official Dakar debut. At the end of Friday, the duo were in fifth place among the 36 UTVs registered to compete in this year’s rally in the T4 category. On Saturday, they secured a stage win. 

“Everything worked,” he added. “This fifth place is a spectacular result given all the tribulations that the team has been going through in the last ten days. 

“Congratulations to everyone. I thank you for the work, the late nights and for believing that we could do it.”

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