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Dakar 2023 |
Stage 12 |
January 14 th 2023 - 07:59 [GMT + 3]
After switching from motorbikes to SSVs with a Polaris and the Sébastien Loeb Racing team, Xavier de Soultrait is discovering the safety and joys of sharing the adventure with his co-driver, Martin Bonnet.
When he returns to the bivouac in the evening, Xavier de Soultrait is ecstatic to set up his tent and put his gear in it. Even during the marathon stage, the Frenchman wanted for nothing while spending the evening in the heart of the Empty Quarter. "The good thing about SSVs is that you can carry your stuff around", he says playfully. "And then, in the evening, you're not drenched in sweat… It's a change from the bike." While he has turned a page and switched to four wheels, Xavier is adamant that he harbours no resentment towards a discipline that saw him shine on several occasions. The Frenchman has left his mark on the history of the Dakar with two stage wins and seventh place overall with Yamaha in 2019. "Riding a motorbike was quite something", he says. "Ten years of my life, an incredible period with great successes but also great pain…" Speaking of pain, a broken vertebra almost forced him to retire two years ago. "By the end, it had become too difficult, I was scared of entering one race too many and ending up badly hurt… So I decided to call it a day." That is when he opened up talks with Sébastien Loeb: "We did some tests to see if I could become his co-driver, but in the end he chose Fabian Lurquin. It makes sense… He's an excellent navigator and more experienced than me. In the end, not reaching a deal with Sébastien allowed me to do one last Dakar on a bike". He finished fifteenth on a Husqvarna. "But we stayed in touch", continues the man from Moulins. When the nine-time world rally champion decided to set up a team to field Polaris SSVs in T4, Xavier was one of the lucky ones to take the wheel of one of the Sébastien Loeb Racing machines. "Polaris invented the discipline and they are coming back to it today with lofty ambitions and their sights set on victory", stresses the driver who turned in his best performance so far in stage 10, when he finished sixth. "But we're not ready yet, we are a little too heavy and our limiter does not help us. Sometimes we're fine, like on the big dunes, where we manage to compensate, sometimes it's harder… But the base is solid and the car is as tough as nails." In terms of sensations, compared to the bike, he still needs to get used to it. But Xavier admits the pleasure comes from a different aspect. "There are two of us, we have a cockpit, safety-wise it's super reassuring. And it feels great to share. The motorbike is a non-stop slog, you're exposed, you get no respite… Here, you've got power steering, a windscreen, windscreen wipers… You've even got time to take in the landscape and talk about the weather with the bloke sitting next to you." This does not stop the Frenchman from looking ahead. "I want to take Polaris back to its winning ways in T4, and then move to T3 and why not, one day, in T1… We want to build something and grow with the Loeb Racing Team."