Dakar 2023: Interview with the Sébastien Loeb Racing team

2023’s Dakar Rally is officially underway. Ahead of the big event, Polaris Off Road caught up with the two pilots in the SSV (T4) fight from the Sébastien Loeb Racing team to find out more about their aspirations and preparations for the world’s toughest rally.

The Sébastien Loeb Racing team comprises two SSV crews: Xavier de Soultrait and co-pilot Martin Bonnet (#415), and Florent Vayssade and co-pilot Nicolas Rey (#418). Having competed in the Dakar Rally a total of nine times previously, all of which on a motorcycle, this year’s Dakar race will present a new perspective for Xavier de Soultrait who will be racing both fast and smart to gain maximum knowledge from his first SSV Dakar. Florent Vayssade however, took his fifth participation in the Dakar Rally 2022 in an SSV, after four editions on a motorcycle, so will be using his insight and experience to help him along the way.

Why did you decide to participate in the Dakar Rally in a side-by-side vehicle?

“The Dakar Rally on a motorcycle has been the rhythm of my life for the last ten years, and it has been a beautiful adventure,” Xavier de Soultrait commented. “I’ve always dreamed of doing the Dakar on four wheels one day, and SSV is the ideal category for that. I’ve had the opportunity to do a raid, a few days of testing in France, and joined the Polaris Camp Maroc adventure in October, but my first real experience with proper time spent in the RZR will be Dakar 2023. I’m now starting a new story with the goal of winning the Dakar one day, so that’s super exciting.” 

“It’s a very natural decision to move from motorcycles to SSVs for the Dakar Rally,” said Florent Vayssade. “It’s an ideal conversion - and I can now focus purely on the driving without worrying about navigation. I must manage the lower vision of the track, but the big positive point is, of course, the increased safety elements with an SSV compared to a motorcycle. On top of that, the idea of sharing this adventure and all those emotions with a co-pilot makes the SSV a must for me.”

What were your first impressions of the RZR Pro R?

“So far we’ve seen that the vehicle is very sturdy, giving us a lot of confidence going into Dakar,” said Xavier de Soultrait. “The Pro R is designed for rally raids,” continued Florent Vayssade. “Its wide wheelbase, oversized chassis, new engine with incredible power and aggressive look… We can’t wait to take those first turns on the special stages in Saudi Arabia.”

How did you prepare for the Dakar Rally this year?

“Polaris France let me use a Polaris RZR for practice in Auvergne, and I have been karting every Monday to keep my driving skills sharp. Physically, it was all about keeping my upper body as fit as possible,” commented Xavier de Soultrait. “I took up the same training as I did for the bike,” said Florent Vayssade. “Lots of mountain biking, road biking, a personalised gym program for core stability and not forgetting a healthy lifestyle at the very core of my preparation.”

What do you hope to achieve in the 2023 Dakar Rally?

“My main goal is to win in the SSV category in the coming years,” said Xavier de Soultrait. “This year, the goal will be to find the right rhythm, to be fast and safe, and to avoid making serious mistakes. Of course, we will try to take advantage of our knowledge and experience gained from past Dakar events on a motorcycle and keep a note of as much information as possible to steer us in future Dakar editions.”

“The great thing is, we’ve been integral to the development of the new Pro R with the Sébastien Loeb Racing team from the beginning,” said Florent Vayssade. “For 2023, we’ll focus on our development with the RZR vehicle, making it as reliable as possible for the seasons to come.”

The Dakar 2023 continues, and the Sébastien Loeb Racing crews race towards rest day in the first half of this extremely long and highly challenging journey, both with a shared goal; to help the team achieve its core mission of playing the leading role in the SSV T4 category in their five-year rally-raid program in partnership with Polaris Off Road Vehicles.

Follow the team’s progress on Facebook and Instagram: @loebracing 


About Polaris

As the global leader in powersports, Polaris Inc. (NYSE: PII) pioneers product breakthroughs and enriching experiences and services that have invited people to discover the joy of being outdoors since our founding in 1954. With annual 2019 sales of $6.8 billion, Polaris’ high-quality product line-up includes the Polaris RANGER, RZR and GENERAL side-by-side off-road vehicles; Sportsman all-terrain off-road vehicles; Indian Motorcycle mid-size and heavyweight motorcycles; Slingshot moto-roadsters; snowmobiles; and deck, cruiser and pontoon boats, including industry-leading Bennington pontoons. Polaris enhances the riding experience with parts, garments and accessories, along with a growing aftermarket portfolio, including TransAmerica Auto Parts. Polaris’ presence in adjacent markets includes military and commercial off-road vehicles, quadricycles, and electric vehicles. Proudly headquartered in Minnesota, Polaris serves more than 100 countries across the globe.