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MONSTER ENERGY HONDA TAKES AIM AT DAKAR HAT-TRICK
The stakes don’t get any higher than this in off-road racing. With thousands of miles of the most punishing terrain on the planet laying in wait and a third consecutive Dakar title within their reach; the pressure is on for the Monster Energy Honda Team as they arrive in Saudi Arabia. Read on for the inside line on a racing outfit who are on the verge of re-writing motorsport history…
Just finishing a Dakar Rally is wild. We're talking monumentally hard. It’s the craziest, longest, toughest, and perhaps cruelest motorsport challenge in the world. A feat that requires thousands of moving parts involving rider and machine to come together in perfect harmony for the ultimate test in the harshest of conditions.
In this year's ‘edition’ - the 44th running of the Dakar - which will run for two weeks between Jeddah, Riyadh and Ha’il, competitors will cover a distance of just over 8300 km / 5150 miles. Half of this (around 4150 km / 2570 miles) will be timed special stages which will determine results, with the rest comprising liaison sections. In context, if you just focus on the timed special stages; that’s a similar distance to racing between Lisbon and Moscow, or New York to Los Angeles. So to win one Dakar is an epic achievement, but securing back-to-back victories is borderline legendary.
THE TEAM TO BEAT
Once more, entering the world’s most brutal and unforgiving off-road rally as the clear favorite puts a target on your back for the chasing pack. A fact not lost on Ruben Faria, General Manager of the Monster Energy Honda Team: “In 2020 and 2021 the Monster Energy Honda Team won Dakar. This year, in 2022, we take the role of favorites, we are the team to beat, and that's why we have to be really well-prepared for the race and go for the hat-trick.”
The countdown to race the 2022 Dakar started way back at the finish line of last year’s event, just as Kevin Benavides blasted to a sensational victory aboard his Monster Energy Honda CRF450 Rally. With the champagne spray barely drying, the team set back to work reinvesting hours of blood and sweat with the sole aim of repeating the result. It’s a cycle that the team knows very well - having taken victory the year previously also, with Ricky Brabec becoming the first US rider in history to win the acclaimed event, and securing Honda their first Dakar win since 1989.
“The Dakar is a very tough, very complicated race, where details are very important,” continues Faria. “Winning the Dakar is not merely a matter of luck: you have to be tactical and incredibly accurate overall twelve days of racing.”
PREPARE FOR THE UNKNOWN
In essence, the Dakar’s very hallmark is unpredictability, and each year the route ahead is brand new and unseen. Competitors must strike a fine balance between attacking a stage as fast as possible while picking their way through unknown terrain and minimizing the risk so they can fight another day after each stage’s chequered flag.
“Raw speed is not enough. Winning requires the combination of three elements: bike, team, and rider. These three factors need to match at the same level and time to accomplish a goal,” explains Taichi Honda, HRC Offroad Race Operations Manager.
“To excel in such an extreme and hostile race as the Dakar Rally, you need experience and technical know-how that cannot be bought. You need to gain it on the ground.” continued Honda. “The rally is once per year, so like the opposite of Russian roulette, you have only one chance to do it right. Season after season we collected data from the different terrains and the most unpredictable race situations, it was the best way to evolve the team and our performance.”
MEET THE TEAM
While the four riders - Ricky Brabec, Joan Barreda, José Ignacio Cornejo, and Pablo Quintanilla - are the tip of the Monster Energy Honda Team spear; nothing would be possible without the unwavering support coming from a diverse crew of 30 people holding down the fort in each end-of-stage-bivouac.
Mechanics, engineers, logistics specialists, media staff, physiotherapists, and riders’ advisors; the setup is impressive, and has resulted in the team not only achieving enviable successes but also becoming the most admired squad in the Cross-Country Rally paddock. 2022 will also be the fifth season that Honda has partnered with Monster Energy at the Dakar; creating arguably the biggest and most badass teams of the modern Rally Raid era. To top it all off, the Monster Energy Honda Team roll into the 2022 Dakar with a reworked livery across their CRF450 bikes and race kit.
Ricky Brabec wrote a new chapter in Dakar history in 2020 by becoming the first US rider to win a Rally Dakar. With this success, he also gave Honda its first Dakar win since 1989 and also broke an 18-year KTM stranglehold on the podium. While Brabec finished runner up in 2021, his focus on the win remains unwavering: “I really look forward to starting this new adventure. I've arrived in good shape," confesses the 30-year-old American. “Due to the pandemic, we have done more training than racing this season, but in a way, I’m kind of lucky because living in California, I can train off-road riding from my garage. We have worked a lot on the navigation, a crucial part of the rally, together with a strategic approach."
José Ignacio “Nacho” Cornejo grew up with a passion for off-road riding. Born in Iquique, Chile, one of the most iconic places that the Dakar used to visit when the rally was hosted in South America. Last year’s hard fall in the fight for the podium has done nothing to dent the 27-year-old Chilean’s resolve: “Dakar Rally is about pushing the limits always a bit further. I’m living the dream. Racing professionally for HRC. Fighting to win the Dakar Rally – the most important rally in the world. I can't wait to get out there and fight for the podium again.”
Joan Barreda’s background in Motocross and incredible raw speed have made him a force to be reckoned with ever since his debut on the Dakar in 2011. With 27 stage wins under his belt, the 38-year-old Spaniard is the most successful active rider and will arrive in Jeddah ready to make another big impression in what will be his 12th Dakar: “The stage-win record is appealing considering the toughness of the rally, but I want more. With the level of competition, a podium would be great, but I'm working to win. It’s a long race – different from the other rallies. But with a really good bike and a great team, I am sure we can do a good job.”
Pablo Quintanilla joined the Monster Energy Honda Team in May and it’s fair to say he has settled in well, having won the Morocco Rally in October; which forms the final test event before heading to the Dakar. “It’s an honor to be part of the team that already won the Dakar in the last edition. For me it’s something that I have been searching for all these years. The atmosphere in the team is really nice. The relationship between the riders, the mechanics and all the people who work here is really nice. Some things you can prepare for yourself before the race, but the other thing is that you have the correct team, with the correct people and the right bike to make it happen. I want to win. I will prepare for the victory. I will do my best as always. I will give it my 100% every day and every stage.”