Saturday, March 2, 2024

TRANSCRIPT: TCF Interview with Joao Ferreira

On 5 October, João Ferreira spoke with The Checkered Flag about his move to South Racing Can-Am for the 2024 Dakar Rally and World Rally-Raid Championship.

The full transcript of the interview is available below. Some text has been altered from the actual dialogue to improve readability.

An article on the interview can be read here.


TCF: Can you explain how the deal to race for Can-Am came together?

JF: After the 2023 season, we have to start thinking in the next season in 2024 and in the next Dakar. We were looking for all the options that we have in the market and South Racing was one of them. Together with my co-driver, with our sponsors, we finally made a good deal, let’s say like that. We changed from the T3 category to the T4. I’m really, really looking forward to it because Can-Am and South Racing have been dominating the side-by-side class in the last couple of years.

For sure, we will continue like that, at least I hope so, and with the new Can-Am Maverick R, so next year should be a good year as well for South Racing and Can-Am.

TCF: How busy has this past month been for you since Argentina? You won the Baja TT Sharish Gin last time and then you joined Can-Am and then this week you have the Baja TT Oeste and then next week is Rallye du Maroc. How busy have things been for you?

JF: It’s been a very, very busy month for us, but it’s part of the job. We enjoyed a lot. Last week we won with the T1 car, with the MINI, and this weekend we really hope we can win again. The competition is very tough. The race is super narrow, it’s super twisty, it’s a very good race for the Can-Am, for the T3 and the T4. They are always super fast, always Can-Ams in the top five, top three, and in this race they will be our main competition against the T1s. The race will finish on Sunday and on Tuesday I will fly to Morocco to start the tests and to prepare for the final round of the World Championship.

TCF: Normally drivers go from T4 to T3 to T1, but you’ve been doing everything. You’ve done T1 and T2 and Baja and then T3 and T4, how has racing all these different classes helped you as a driver?

JF: I understand that it’s not very common for drivers to jump places, like you said, from the T1 to the T3, now T4. It looks like we are doing the opposite of what should be. When we started in cross-country and in off-road, we started just racing Portugal with a T2 car; it’s basically a stock car with some customisation, but the base, it’s a stock car. We did two years with that car and we were growing, growing, growing. In 2022, we bought a Mini and we raced with support from ARC Sport, a Portuguese team, and of course X-Raid, we were Portuguese champions and the European champions.

In 2023, we converted our T1 car to the T1+. It’s a wider car with bigger wheel travel; the wheels are much bigger. This opportunity, in parallel to the T1 competition, we were doing the World Championship of Cross-Country with Yamaha. We started in Dakar, it was my first Dakar ever, and we did Abu Dhabi, Mexico, Argentina. It came down to the decision what to do in 2024 and we thought South Racing made a good offer for us to race the T4. We have to change a little bit of the mindset because it’s almost like we’re racing in the T2 category of this. The car is much more from the stock Can-Am, but even being a stock car in the Dakar they finished I think P4 overall in the Dakar.

For sure, it’s a stock car, but also for sure it’s a super nice car to drive and fast and reliable and that’s the most important part. Being fast is just not enough. It has to be a reliable car, it would be a good thing.

TCF: When people look and they see you moving from T4 to T3, they might think it’s a downgrade from the outside since normally drivers go from T4 to T3. Do you disagree with that?

JF: I can understand why all the drivers do that because it’s a slower category, like there’s the top speed, it’s less than the T3 and after they jump to the T1. Some drivers for example like Chaleco (Lopéz) is driving in the T3 class for I don’t know how many years and he is being consistent, consistent, consistent and a very, very good driver. The Cars category at this moment is the biggest class in Dakar. For example, the T3 every year are growing and getting better and getting closer to the cars.

Maybe in the near future, we will have a Can-Am or other side-by-side winning the races in the World Championship, but I think it’s just a matter of time to happen. The regulations don’t allow us to be super fast to not beat the manufacturers like Audi, Toyota, and Mini. Basically, that’s the life of driving coming from T4, T3, and T1, and we are now jumping a little bit. I think it’s a step down, let’s say like that, but I think it’s very important to me when I’m still young. I’m 24, so I’m not in a hurry to try to win today. We are learning and learning. Try to win in T4 next year, try to win in the T3, and we’ll see what the future expects.

TCF: Would you ever consider driving a truck in T5 to say you got the full rally experience?

JF: [laughs] Come on, I didn’t think about it, no. I don’t have that ambition but should be fun at least for just one race. But no, my main focus is the cars and the side-by-side. 

TCF: How different is driving a T4 compared to a T3?

JF: Like I said, I don’t have much experience with T4, but I was lucky because Rokas Baciuška won the actual World Championship and I spent a few times with him in the last few days. I also tried to learn and always ask a lot of things, how you can be fast and save the car at the same time. But yeah, you have to be more careful with the car because as I said, it has much more stock parts than the T3, but after that, South Racing made an incredible T4. Very strong, very reliable. For sure, we will have a lot of fun with the car and we hope to win Dakar and W2RC.

TCF: How important have drivers like Rokas been to helping you get used to the Can-Am?

JF: Yeah, a lot. I’m lucky that I spent the last days with Rokas. He’s a very nice guy, super, super fast as everybody knows. That’s why he’s the world champion. He will now race in the T3 category in Morocco and for sure he will be a threat for the other drivers. I also have good support from South Racing and one of the guys who tests a lot of the cars from there, he’s Portuguese, so in the last weeks we’ve been talking a lot. Even when I did my day within a T4 he was there and I was always asking him how I can improve, why the car does this, why the car does that, and he always helps me a lot. Very, very nice guys, both of them.

TCF: Do you feel any pressure to do well now that you’re in T4 with a team like South after Rokas won the last two championships?

JF: The team has a lot of pressure, it’s like that, but you have to show the car is reliable and fast. Yeah, I have the idea that, ‘Okay, we are fast.’ We showed in the past with the Yamaha and even with the Mini, we showed we are fast. Luckily for me, I have a very good co-driver; Filipe Palmeiro is a very good, experienced co-driver. In 2024, he will do his nineteenth Dakar. We have all the conditions: good car, good team, good sponsors and support, and good co-driver to do an awesome Dakar.

But Dakar, you can take 10,000 kilometres to be in first place and in one centimetre you can lose Dakar, so you have to be very careful, very focused all the time. I can say the team for sure has a little bit of pressure, me as well, but I will try to do my best job and at the finish line, let’s see where we can finish.

TCF: Outside of the World Championship, do you have any plans of racing in Bajas again?

JF: Yeah. The World Championship, I will do the Can-Am T4 and alongside of that I will do the Portuguese Championship with the Mini. Maybe some races of the World Cup or maybe European Cup. To be honest, we didn’t have part of the World Championship on our calendar. We didn’t choose all the things yet, but we want to do some racing in Portugal or even the full championship, some races of the World Cup and maybe some races of European Cup. But we have to also adjust to the World Championship, which is our main focus.

TCF: What is your main goal for Morocco? Is it to win or just get used to the car?

JF: Both of them, come on. [laughs] Every driver, when he puts on the helmet, he wants to win and do his best and not be reaching the point of saying, ‘No, I just want to have fun.’ Come on.

We want to have fun, get used to the car. It’s the first preparation for Dakar which is our main goal. We’ll give our best to learn together with the team, the car everyday, me and Filipe. I really hope in the final stage we can win Morocco.

TCF: Looking to Dakar, what are your thoughts on the route and some of the new rules like the Chrono Stage?

JF: That will be interesting. That will be very, very nice. I think there will be a lot of team strategy there because even with the season that we have racing, there will be a lot of strategy there. It will be super fun because you have a 48-hour stage, 600K or something like that, I’m not sure, you have to adjust your pace, you have to adjust. You have to save the car, the tyres, everything. You have to manage everything perfectly. 

I think it will be maybe a game-changing Dakar and it’s nice to see competition. Dakar, the biggest competition, the toughest race of off-road, and they are always improving and improving, try to be different. I think it will be very, very interesting.

TCF: Obviously, your Dakar this year didn’t end as you would like, but you still won a stage and you were still fast for your first time. How much confidence does that give you going into your second one next year?

JF: Everyone says, even my co-driver said, the most difficult Dakar is the second one. In the first one, you have the mindset of, ‘Okay, it’s just to finish,’ and everything—most of the parts, not always—goes perfect. And on the second one, you saw that the first one was okay and you can push and you are already dominating the Dakar, let’s say like that, so you have to be super careful. I was talking with the most experienced drivers, they always tell me that.

But yeah, winning in my first Dakar, winning two stages for the World Championship in the T3 category, it was one of the most competitive categories; I think it was the most, if we see how many drivers won stages, I think T3 was the most competitive. 

It’s a good impression to see, ‘Okay, we are fast,’ but like I said, Dakar is not just being fast. For Austin Jones and Chaleco Lopéz, they are the guys of that. They are never super, super fast, but they are always there. They are very consistent, very smooth with the car, they save the car and that’s why they won already, I don’t know how many times the Dakar.

TCF: After Dakar, there’s the BP Ultimate Rally-Raid Transibérico, in April. How do you feel about getting to race the World Championship in your home country?

JF: That’s super nice. That feels super, super nice. A lot of Portuguese drivers will race there, I hope so. The race, from what I heard, it’s going be a lot of sand, not like Dakar of course, but sandy tracks. It will be super fun, super fast as well and will be a pleasure to see all the World Championship drivers in our own country and in Spain. I think the drivers will enjoy the race. 

TCF: Before we wrap this up, is there anything else you would like to add?

JF: Just a big, big thank you for South Racing, first of all, for the opportunity to race with them for Can-Am. To join the Can-Am family is like an honour. They have been incredibly fast across the last years and when they are the leaders, they still improve with the new car and they always improve to try to get better and better. A big thank you to all of my sponsors that allow me to do this amazing calendar next year.

Interview audio on YouTube