Written by By Valeria Rossini, CNN
For most teenagers, carving up a track full of roaring, terrifying cars isn’t their idea of fun.
But for 19-year-old Raffaele Frassi of Italy, there was little choice.
Farmed out by his family to a professional track racing team at a young age, he has seen first-hand the demands of racing in the treacherous off-road scene.
Most of the 500,000 professional and amateur drivers in the sport hail from either the United States or Europe, where the wilderness of abandoned oil drilling sites can give way to enduring winds and punishing terrain.
“It’s more boring when you’re just staying in front,” Frassi said over the phone. “But then it’s more stimulating to get all of those muscles going and feeling how much power you have to push yourself.”
Founded in 1979, the team behind the off-road pursuits of the world’s best off-road racers, Frank Lutz Off-Road, is committed to improving race cars that haven’t been designed with off-road conditions in mind.
“We try to make them competitive in rough terrain — in the winter, sand dunes, gravel roads, mud roads,” Frank Lutz Off-Road business manager Kevin Cottrell said.
The off-road specialists differ from more conventional motorsport teams in two distinct ways: much of their training focuses on day-to-day practicality, which differs from elite drivers in other sports, and the team is made up entirely of young men.
“I saw that there was a lot of testosterone in motorsport,” Cottrell said. “There’s a ton of testosterone, but I didn’t see it among off-road drivers, so I saw a gap.”
The age difference between these men, who range in age from 14 to 42, made for an effective recruiting strategy.
“It’s easier to train them to do the technical things off the track because that makes them better drivers on the track. So instead of just saying, ‘Have you driven a race car?’ you can say, ‘How did you prepare?’ ” Cottrell said.
But that’s where the similarities end.
At 26, by comparison, racing champion Sebastian Loeb has been racing professionally for more than two decades.
Currently one of the sport’s most famous drivers, Loeb is known for beating his rivals in races spanning all of the major categories, including the 4×4 categories.
“Because he’s experienced and he’s much older, he’s used to a higher level of competition,” Cottrell said. “Having him and Raffaele come into the same sort of world of racing is very helpful.”