The Sertões Rally is among the most grueling high-speed point-to-point rally raid events in the world. The problem is, most of the world has never heard of it. Casey Currie, looking for a new challenge, packed up his stuff and shipped it all down to Brazil to see what he could do. As it turns out, he could do a whole heck of a lot. For the racer who has already done Baja and Dakar and the Mint and various other famed events all around the world, it was the challenge of the new that drew him to South America.
I recently set up a Zoom call with the international dirt-racing star to get his perspective on this new challenge. It was honestly eye-opening to get a glimpse of what kind of fun an old hand at this sport can still have with a new challenge.
“One of my buddies at Polaris was looking at different opportunities for us to race,” recalls Currie. “One thing is that I’m at a place in my career where I’ve raced Dakar, I’ve raced the Baja 1000, I’ve raced the Mint. I’m looking for the ultimate challenge. I love to challenge myself, to challenge my team, to challenge my Polaris. I want to see how far we can take what we have. I don’t want people to think I’m doing anything the easy way. Learning to look at what we can go and race around the world to see how competitive we are. That’s my goal.
“I want to show other Americans that they need to look outside the bubble that we race in. Americans live in a bubble, we race the same five races every year. If you look at the trophy truck guys, they’re doing the same thing every year. I want to show those guys that there are other places to race in the world that they can go out and find that challenge that could even be more challenging than what we’re racing in the states. I want to bring more awareness to what we’re doing so that more Americans can come down and compete.”
Now racing a factory-supported Polaris RZR Pro XT effort, Currie flew down to Brazil with a co-driver, a mechanic, and a media guy for what he describes as the time of his life. The draw of Brazil is certainly the gorgeous sandy beaches and delightful tropical cities on the ocean, and the event plays on that by starting and ending at the ocean, but the gnarly route traverses quickly into the interior of the country. With multiple river crossings, big swings in topography, and lots of different terrain, the rally is one that always has a few surprises in store.
For Casey the journey was even more treacherous. His Polaris made it to Brazil in plenty of time, but he’d planned to send trick racing suspension, as well as race-specific beadlock wheels and tires, and other modifications.
“They never showed up until halfway through the rally. Customs was so overloaded with work that they basically didn’t get us our stuff in time. I was driving truly a stock Pro XT. That made it very difficult. All of my competitors are running between 230 and 250 horsepower, and we’re stock at 185. Most of them are running an aftermarket tire and wheel package that are more specific to off-road racing. And I was running a stock tire and wheel.”
There’s no special class for stock tires and wheels, the Polaris team was up against the rest of the UTV class, and there was nothing they could do but put it in full send mode and hope for the best. So how did it go?
“…(T)he racing was unbelievable. The roads were really fast. That is the most competitive race I’ve ever competed in all around the world. 90 UTVs and 40 of them were finishing within 10 minutes every single day. Ten minutes is like nothing. One flat tire is a five-minute change. You get one flat tire and you’re getting passed by 20 competitors. It’s very very competitive. I finished eighth overall and within 3 minutes of me was fifth place and fifteenth place.
“An unmodified bone-stock vehicle, down 60 horsepower, and managed to finish 8th out of 90 in the class. Hell yeah, we were the only one in the class that was unmodified. The rest of the field was highly highly modified. This was my philosophy, because we have to drive so hard, it’s either we’re going to go for the win or we’re going to put it on a trailer and we’ll get to the beach early because it can’t be driven anymore. Checkers or wreckers. All gas all day.”
So with that balls-to-the-wall philosophy, how did it work out? Obviously a top-ten finish is damn good. Did the flat-out approach mean lots of broken components and de-beaded tires?
“I had a flat tire. Actually I didn’t even get a flat tire. What happened to me was that I got a rock went inbetween the caliper and the wheel and lodged itself in there and poked a hole in the rim. It damaged the caliper, but I didn’t lose brakes. We had to change that flat. Other than that I lost two belts in the sand, just pushing really hard. That was 100 percent driver error. I was driving like a fuckin’ bat out of hell trying to make up time, so that was my mistake.
“Aside from that we never worked on the car, we never turned a wrench, we just drove.”
This race held a level of challenge different from any other rally that Currie had ever competed in, not only because the terrain was fast and flowing allowing speeds other rallies just don’t, but also because the local competition was truly on it for the entire event. The Sertões isn’t quite on the level of a Dakar, but it brings a level of challenge that Baja simply can’t.
“Dakar is the most challenging, there’s no doubt about that. Sertões is a lot more challenging than a Baja because you have eight days of racing rather than one. You have to have eight good days rather than one. In Baja if you have one solid day you can win. It just brings a new challenge. I don’t think there is any race that we do where you see the speeds that we saw in Brazil. To me that’s what I want everyone to understand. You go to Brazil and race and you’re getting the opportunity to go and drive as fast as you can for eight days. There is no save the car until the finish. They don’t do that. They’re going flat out every minute.”
It’s really a testament to the durability of modern products. One hundred percent. I was driving basically a stock car. A lot of these other guys have highly modified vehicles to make it to the finish. I mean 2500 miles is a long way. For us to say we did it in a stock vehicle is truly amazing. And in the top ten. We finished top three one day, but we were always within distance of the leaders.
This is the kind of perspective I love to see from racers. Go somewhere new, take on a new challenge, kick all kinds of ass, and have nothing but kind words to say about the race, the host country, its people, and a spectacular event. You can bet that Currie and Polaris will be back in 2022, perhaps shipping their race parts a couple months early to avoid customs challenges, and they’ll be ready to take on the best that Brazil can throw at them.
Thanks to Casey for taking the time out of his busy schedule to chat with me. I genuinely appreciate it.