Features

Xavier Foj – an interview with a Dakar Rally veteran

We meet one of the most successful off-road racers of all time and veteran of no fewer than 27 Dakar rallies – Xavier Foj

What does a man who is officially a legend look like? You might expect some sort of leviathan, a character striding straight out of the pages of a DC Comic. But Xavier Foj is a relatively diminutive 58-year-old. He’s clearly physically fit (he doesn’t smoke or drink) but, weighing around 63kg, standing 170cm tall in his Sparco racing boots and with grey hair cut short, he looks more like an architect. Which he is.

> Click for the latest news and info for the Dakar Rally 2018

Foj is one of just six inductees into the Dakar Legends club. Names such as Peterhansel, Roma and Despres are relatively well-known to anyone with even a passing interest in the most famous of rally raids, but Foj is hardly recognised outside his native Spain. Yet he has competed in 27 Dakar rallies, winning his class twice, standing on the class podium nine times and completing the rally for 13 consecutive years. He hopes 2018 will be number 14.

He first competed in the rally in 1991, using a truck from the family limestone quarry near Barcelona. He continued in the T4 category initially (three times as a co-driver) but has since settled largely on the T2 category for series production vehicles, using a Toyota Land Cruiser. We recently caught up with him to discuss his Dakar highs and lows.

What do you remember of that first Paris-Dakar in 1991?

The immensity of the desert. At that time there was no GPS. And sometimes you lose the tracks and are alone, nobody’s there. You ask the co-driver, are you sure we are going in the good direction? They check the road book. Yes. When we arrive at the horizon... the same immensity again. Nobody’s there. Eventually you find the tracks and you arrive at the point, but the immensity of the desert was the most impressive thing. Because if you are lost, you are lost. You feel so little.

> Toyota Yaris GRMN review

Why do you say the stages are harder in South America than Africa?

January is summer in South America so there are some days where it is 45 or 50 degrees [Celsius] outside. Inside the car, much more. Also the altitude: 3000, 4000, 5000 metres. The engine doesn’t work, a lot of people don’t work, so you have to take it easy. The stages are also much faster because there are more very good cars and very good tracks and much more assistance, because it’s easier to do assistance. So, in the stages it’s worse, but in the bivouacs, in the liaisons there is everything: gas stations, tarmac, hospitals, spare parts. You live better.

What’s the biggest challenge with the T2 category?

The biggest challenge is to drive fast and not break anything. You can’t change or repair anything, from front differential, rear differential, gearbox, transfer, turbo, engine... This is a real production and marathon race.

Do you have a particular type of terrain that you enjoy?

Nowadays, you only enjoy the Dakar when you finish! I have skills on the dunes, but I don’t enjoy.

> evo motorsport moments of the year 2017

Why is it difficult starting further back in the field?

When the trucks arrive [and overtake] they rip the piste more than half a metre deep. And they are wider than you, so you have one wheel on top [and one in a rut]. A lot of truck drivers are crazy. They barge you off the piste. They overtake hors-piste, too, because they have the power, the big wheels, the suspension... After that you can see nothing [because of the dust] so you have to stop.

What was your worst Dakar moment?

The worst was when a biker died in my lap. It was in 1997 and I was in a racing Unimog. I had seen a bike and the biker was not there. After 50 metres I saw some colours in the bush. He was lying there breathing harshly with open eyes. When the doctors arrived they cut all his clothes and I was helping, but after 40 minutes the doctors said, he is dead. Forty-two years old. Married. Child. It was his dream to take part in the rally.

You are a Dakar Legend, but do you have any heroes?

Peterhansel. He is very clever. He wins the stage he has to win. Also his skills as a biker are incredible but he is not a biker that becomes a driver, he’s a real driver.

Xavier Foj was speaking to evo on behalf of Coopertires

Recommended

Toyota’s GR division hasn’t given up on combustion engines just yet
Toyota GR86
News

Toyota’s GR division hasn’t given up on combustion engines just yet

Toyota’s Gazoo Racing division will continue to investigate hydrogen-fuelled engines for road-going performance cars, as well as developing pure elect…
3 Dec 2023
Toyota's FT-Se sports car could make production
Toyota FT-Se sports car concept
News

Toyota's FT-Se sports car could make production

Pure-electric GR-badged two-seater is a concept for now – but a production version hasn’t been ruled out
3 Dec 2023
Toyota GR86 is back on sale: new UK allocation announced
GR86 opener
News

Toyota GR86 is back on sale: new UK allocation announced

Toyota sold its entire two-year allocation of the GR86 coupe in 90 mins in 2022 but new cars have been found.
8 Jun 2023

Most Popular

Toyota GR Yaris Gen 2 2024 review – first drive of the production ready hot hatch
Toyota GR Yaris – front
Reviews

Toyota GR Yaris Gen 2 2024 review – first drive of the production ready hot hatch

We've driven a prototype GR Yaris Gen 2 on track, now we've driven a production car on ice. Is it still looking good for the ultimate supermini?
27 Feb 2024
New Alpine A290: latest details on the Renault 5's hot hatch cousin
Alpine A290 concept
Features

New Alpine A290: latest details on the Renault 5's hot hatch cousin

Good news for fans of accessible performance, as Alpine reveals more details about its forthcoming EV hot hatch, the A290
26 Feb 2024
The Jensen Interceptor ‘Mk5’ is a 770bhp V8 hybrid restomod
Jensen Interceptor ‘Mk5’
News

The Jensen Interceptor ‘Mk5’ is a 770bhp V8 hybrid restomod

The groundbreaking Jensen Interceptor FF has been given an electrified overhaul almost 60 years after its launch, but it retains the all-important V8
28 Feb 2024