Prodrive-led dream team assembles ‘the ultimate rally car’ for 2021 Dakar

If you had nearly unlimited dosh to assemble a dream team to win the 2021 Dakar Rally, you’d have a hard time doing better than the crew behind the BRX T1. The abyssal well of finance comes from Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund, Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Company, otherwise known as Mumtalakat and the majority owner of the McLaren Group. The fund is paying for an effort led by Dave Richards of Prodrive, the English engineering and motorsports firm that’s won rally, GT, and endurance racing for 36 years now — a stint that began after Richards hung up his helmet as a World Rally Championship-winning co-driver. The vehicle that’s already begun testing is known as the Bahrain Raid Xtreme, or BRX, with three of them planned to enter next year’s premier T1 class for the overall Dakar win. Ian Callum’s new design and consulting firm scored the job of finishing the BRX’s bodywork, and will design a potential roadgoing version. And global sports marketing agency CSM will work to make sure the world keeps up with what’s happening with the BRX for the next four years.

As told by Autocar, the loose Dakar rules compelled Prodrive’s interest in the Dakar, the regulations permitting three engine types, two drivetrains, and flexibility with bodywork. Richards could be expected to field a strong challenger anywhere he chooses to race, but with the BRX T1 representing the Bahraini crown and His Royal Highness Prince Salman, Richards’ is trying to develop “the ultimate rally car.” 

The BRX’s tubular steel chassis cradles a Ford-sourced 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 front midship, tuned to 400 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. The motor’s been revised with a dry-sump oil system, beefed-up protection around its timing chest, and new electronics. Even though two-wheel-drive entries have triumphed in four of the last five Dakar rallies, partially due to exceptions like unlimited suspension travel on 2WD vehicles, Richards opted for four-wheel drive for the traction, driveability, and superiority in mountainous terrain. Hence, a six-speed sequential transmission sends power to both axles through three differentials. Two adjustable dampers per wheel manage a double wishbone suspension at every corner. About the length of a Ford Focus, standing on tall rubber wrapped around 16-inch wheels, the BRX weighs 4,079 pounds dry, about 760 pounds more than a 2020 Focus ST.

The engine’s been serving time on the Prodrive dyno, and the workshop is building the first chassis to be ready for testing in September. Until then, engineers continue refining the bodywork — drenched in Bahraini Racing Red — “to refine its aerodynamics, on both the top and bottom surfaces” so the BRX can make the most of the Dakar’s mandated 106-mph top speed. 

There will be an initial test in the Rallye du Maroc in October of this year, followed by the marquee trial in Saudi Arabia. Next year’s Dakar starts in Jeddah on January 3, spending 12 days traversing 4,400 miles to end in Jeddah, 3,000 of those miles said to be flat-out running.

So what’s this about four years and a road car? The timespan is how long Mumtalakat is underwriting the project as a means of promoting Bahrain and tourism. If the BRX does well and customer interest materializes, Prodrive says it’s ready to build cars for privateers, and a road-legal version with body panels finessed by Ian Callum that would be the “Ferrari of the desert.”