In one week, SKARLAT-XTRM Team will travel to Spain to compete in the Rallye TT Cuenca, the final round of the Spanish Cross-Country Rally Championship. Programme leader and Dakar Rally alumnus Vadim Pritulyak will drive a SKARLAT buggy with Sergey Romanovsky as his navigator, while Olexandr Gonzul will call the shots in a Toyota FJ Cruiser piloted by Ivan Barbero.
The team was formally revealed at a press conference on Thursday. Both entries will race in the non-competition ParaBaja category for racers with limited mobility or other disabilities.
With the exceptions of Barbero and the Toyota, the team is a Ukrainian effort whose co-drivers served in the Armed Forces of Ukraine before suffering serious injuries in combat against Russian invasion. Romanovsky lost his right leg in an accident during a 2014 battle, while Gonzul’s left arm and right leg were destroyed by a land mine in 2022. Both soldiers have prosthetic limbs that enable them to resume walking. While not sustained in war, Pritulyak lost vision in his right eye due to complications from botched medical treatment for a 2018 accident; he raced the Dakar Rally from 2009 to 2011.
The effort started to took shape in late July when Pritulyak’s friend Vladyslav Kushchynsky met with ParaBaja Step by Step director Natalia Bettonica at the Baja España Aragón. Two weeks later, the Real Federación Española de Automovilismo’s inclusivity committee, which Bettonica chairs, formally invited the Automobile Federation of Ukraine to bring a wounded soldier to the Rallye TT Cuenca where they would take part as a co-driver. Pritulyak did not find out about the offer until it had gone public, but quickly connected with Kushchynsky and agreed to prepare both a full crew and their own vehicle.
The SKARLAT that Pritulyak and Romanovsky will race is a Ukrainian UTV brand. Built upon the platform of the Massimo Warrior 1000 MXD Crew with Pritulyak leading development, it was designed to quickly evacuate injured Ukrainian soldiers from the battlefield. UTVs are cheaper to produce and easier to repair than standard emergency vehicles while their off-road capabilities allow them to go through difficult terrain.
Two SKARLATs have already been supplied to the military for testing, and Pritulyak hopes to use the Rallye TT Cuenca to raise foreign interest in the marque.
“After several months of testing, we’ve come to the conclusion that these buggies are desperately needed on the frontlines,” said Pritulyak. “On the frontlines, they perform tasks such as transporting our fighters and medevac. The buggies can carry up to three to four seriously wounded and up to ten lightly wounded soldiers, allowing them to be evacuated.
“What’s our goal? Why did we start this project? We want to show the global community what the war in Ukraine is like and what consequences it has for our soldiers. We also want to draw attention and international funds to purchase such buggies for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, for evacuating the wounded. That’s our main motivation.”
Kushchynsky is the head of the Automobile Federation of Ukraine’s technical committee and runs Autolife Racing Team, the latter a technical partner for SKARLAT-XTRM. He was a rally raid driver until a career-ending crash at the 2013 Italian Baja, and was compelled to partner with ParaBaja upon learning of its mission to provide racing opportunities for those with major injuries. With the Russo-Ukrainian War ongoing and leading to more troops getting hurt or worse, Kushchynsky and Pritulyak feel projects like ParaBaja are healthy avenues to easing them back into civilian life.
Should Cuenca go well, Pritulyak and Kushchynsky intend to expand the team and ParaBaja’s scopes beyond Spain to other countries like Hungary and Poland, both of which host the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas. Eventually, they envision the team competing alongside traditional teams with the Dakar Rally as the ultimate goal. A similar programme was successfully undertaken a decade prior when British and American troops finished the 2013 and 2014 Dakar Rallies as Race2Recovery, while the 2023 Dakar Classic featured Frères d’Armes, a team of wounded French veterans.
Other supporters include Serhii Malyk, a Ukrainian daredevil who has raced Dakar in a truck and set land speed records at Bonneville, and FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, who Pritulyak said “responded very positively” to the team’s goal.
“I believe that this is very important because it significantly contributes to the rehabilitation of soldiers, both physically and emotionally,” said Romanovsky. “This project aims to provide our armed forces with a mobile means of transportation. It’s no secret to anyone at what speed and intensity battles are fought, and how critical the ‘golden hour’ is when it comes to providing medical assistance. However, due to the lack of evacuation means, this is often not possible. This project aims to address this issue.”
The Rallye TT Cuenca will take place on 20/21 October.