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Page 14 of 114

ON THE RZR’S EDGE Off-Road Racing Provides Polaris With New Innovations To Continually Push The Limits Of UTV Performance By Dan Sanchez Photos by Get Some Photo Back in the late 1960s and 70’s U.S. automakers would work with racers to build vehicles to perform better on the big oval tracks and drag strips across the county. It led to incredible innovations in safety, engine power, and suspension performance that were later added to the vehicles Americans would drive on the street. Off-road motorsports and the UTV industry is going through a very similar situation today. UTV Manufacturers are learning from their experience in off-road racing by testing and solving problems to make their vehicles better, which improves the consumer’s experience, as well as sales. A Big Head Start Polaris was one of the first OE manufacturers to see the potential that racing can bring for product development, and how a relationship with drivers and teams is a valuable resource for feedback and testing. According to Brett Carpenter, Manager ORV Racing Polaris, the involvement in off-road racing escalated around 2016 when UTV models were pushing for more power. “When Polaris came out with the RZR XP 1000 Turbo Razor, it was the vehicle that we believe put UTV racing on the map,” says Carpenter. The first RZR models in 2012 made 45 horsepower and the power kept increasing to the current 2020 RZR Turbo XP, which makes 144 hp. Some of the first UTVs to appear in the SCORE World Desert Challenge was in 2006 where the SPT UTV class was established and ran through 2012. As UTVs models changed, the SCORE changed it to a Pro Class, starting the Pro UTV Class 19 in 2013. UTV models continued to advance, requiring more segmented classes like Pro UTV N/A (naturally aspirated), Pro UTV FI (forced induction) and Pro Stock UTV. By this time, Polaris had already approached teams like Brandon Schueler’s Jagged-X, to work with them to improve the vehicle’s overall capabilities. “Jagged-X was the original team Polaris worked with to learn where our vehicles needed improvement during off-road motorsports competition,” said Carpenter. “Our racers have helped us with their extensive background in racing and the development of Polaris’ race program. Wayne and Kristen Matlock, for example, have more UTV miles than just about anyone. It’s the same with Justin Lambert, Craig Scanlon, Brandon Simms, and the Jagged-X team. We wouldn’t be successful without growing with them as racers and improving the vehicles along the way. What we get in return is strong accurate data.” That level of involvement is no doubt the reason why the company’s latest RZR model, the 2020 RZR Pro XP is the most capable and most powerful in the company’s line up at 181 horsepower. “There’s a lot of testing with race teams and our drivers that make a vehicle like the RZR Pro XP possible,” says Carpenter. “It’s more than just sponsorship, we have a full department of engineers that support teams at races and provide them with resources they wouldn’t normally have on their own.” Advancements Learned From BaJa Racing If you take a look at a UTV from 2002 they were more utility vehicle than the off-road performance machine they are today. Granted there is still a market segment for the utilitarian side, but even those vehicles now share some DNA taken from the performance engineered models. One of the biggest take-a-ways from Polaris’ involvement in motorsports is learning what makes drivers and passengers comfortable. “A lot of what we’ve learned is that consumers want to be comfortable driving,” said Carpenter. “Racers want to be able to drive 900 to 1000 miles of desert and not feel beat-up. We’ve taken that input and realizing that there are different levels of UTV enthusiasts, we try to create a comfortable cockpit that gives the best all-around riding experience.” Lower seating positions, as well as more leg, head and shoulder room, are some of the latest design changes visible in all UTVs. Other design improvements from racing include the vehicle’s wheelbase and track width. “On the new RZR Pro XP, we went back to a narrow wheelbase,” said Carpenter. “At 64-inches it’s narrower than the Turbo S models, but we found that it’s the most comfortable package out of the box. When drivers and passengers are more comfortable they have more confidence, and it allows us to make different suspension settings that can be more aggressive.” “Our relationships with race teams have led to making improvements to belt life and other common issues such as axles and drivetrain components. Over time, these components have gotten stronger allowing vehicle owners to have greater enjoyment overall. The latest RZR Pro XP is refined in this way that it can be marketed to so many levels of enthusiasts, from dunes and desert runners to trail and weekend warriors and full-on racers.” Reaching Higher Levels Watching these vehicles in competition start and finish in greater numbers, and with faster course times, it’s difficult to think that manufacturers like Polaris believe UTVs haven’t reached their full potential. “These vehicles keep improving year after year and the most noticeable is in the quality and the ride,” says Carpenter. “With competition from Honda, Can-Am, Yamaha, and others, Polaris has to continue to find ways to improve their vehicles. The great thing we are seeing now in UTV racing is the RZR models creeping up to surpass Class 10 vehicles and others on the course. A couple of years ago, Wayne Matlock finished the SCORE Baja 1000 in 20 hours and won his class. That’s amazing to me.” Aside from rising stars in the Pro UTV categories, top SCORE Trophy Truck racers are also taking notice. “We’re beginning to see a lot of familiar faces from premiere classes like SCORE Trophy Truck looking at getting into some UTVs,” says Carpenter. “With a high level of racing skills, these racers can also give us feedback that will enable vehicles to reach higher levels of performance that we may not have even thought of yet.” While many racers from various classes and other types of racing are attracted to UTVs, OE’s like Polaris are most excited about the potential for the Pro Stock classes. “The Pro Stock classes allow more people to get involved in racing, and for us, it’s more proof these vehicles perform right out of the showroom floor,” says Carpenter. “Mike Cafro won the Pro Stock class at the SCORE Baja 1000 which was a big deal for Polaris. We wish more people were participating in this class and we’re sure it will grow. While this may bring in some new competitors, we like those race entities like SCORE who have developed this class and created rules that offer a middle ground between newcomers, experienced racers, and a call for proper safety upgrades.” It’s safe to say that UTVs are continuing to improve to be safer, more reliable, and much faster in the years to come. “Once a new vehicle gets released, it’s a snowball effect and everyone ups their game,” says Carpenter. “For now, I see that cycle continuing for quite some time.” SJ

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