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Images from day five / stage 5 at the 2021 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia
NEWS

Dakar 2021: Brabec Van Beveren Jones Roma: The Ultimate Challenge

Jan 102021

The Dakar is dangerous, and it may cause an addiction. When the race is over, you start planning the next one. This is the way it is; and in many ways the pure sporting side is only a part of the show. Behind the scenes there is the inner motivation of the athletes, because you cannot go down to hell and back without being driven by passion, dreams, and that ultimate challenge against yourself. What’s more the motivation that makes you keep going beyond the limits of your mind when it is telling you to stop - it’s almost an inhuman quality that Dakar racers need to embrace.  

 

This year, like never before, the Dakar has been a roller coaster of highs and lows of satisfactions and big frustrations. Read on to find out from the racers themselves. 

 

“Repeating the win is the ultimate challenge”  - Ricky Brabec 

 

Ricky Brabec took a huge step last year getting his first Dakar win under his belt. When you accomplish a goal, you have to find a new goal to motivate yourself. But the American is a racer and, after a deserved time off, he found in the folds of his soul a new motivation: to be a consecutive Dakar winner. Because winning once is great, but winning twice is what really sets it in stone.   

“We were lucky to have had a proper party in San Juan Capestrano, California in February to celebrate my 2020 Dakar win. I also did and won the Sonora Rally in the middle of March before Covid shut down the world”, states the first American to have won the Dakar in the bike category.  

 

Ricky Brabec arrived strong and fit at the Dakar despite all the race calendars being cancelled in 2020. Living in California gave the Honda rider the opportunity to train in the desert with the circle of his close mentors and friends, part of his Dakar success: Johnny Campbell and Jimmy Lewis. 

“We set up a plan so that I could train with the roadbook three days a week, plus we did a durability test for HRC. Consistency in training was the key, so when I arrived on the Dakar, it looked like another week of rally, but as a title defender, of course I need to manage some pressure”.  

 “The rally this year has been really aggressive with the navigation, so when you open the track you lose a lot of time. As soon as you are comfortable with the terrain, you need to reset the pace and the mind-set. The result? A roller coaster out of control!  It's like a rubber band effect", commented the American about the first week of the rally.  

 

The terrain on the first stage was very difficult with a lot of rocks and lower speeds so it set Ricky Brabec back. On the second stage he was able to move forward, finishing second with teammate Joan Barreda winning.  On the third day he fell back again in a constant yo-yo effect. 

“The rhythm of the race is so fast, that you recover so much time when you start from the back. Last year I was leading from stage 3 and managed well till the finish. The frustration this year is the impossibility to manage the race. Every day there is a new leader overall, and the leader may not even have won a race. Is that possible?   

 

“This year it’s a disadvantage to win a stage, so we had to reset our strategy and find a new way to stabilize the consistency. The challenge in the strategy of trying to arrive with the front runners, without winning is that – differently from last year – there is no group so you don’t have any reference”. 

With the navigation becomes crucial, at the end of the first day of the rally; the race in the bike category is open.  

 

It takes a team to win, although when the race is still in the first part, there is a fine line between the individual motivations and the team’s sake. Brabec’s strategy was to set a bit back and then to push from the start, in order to recover on the Saudi open terrain.    

 

“Riding with a free head is my priority” - Adrien Van Beveren  

 

“We have seen so far a lot of yo-yoing in the classification, because there are many riders who simply push flat out to the detriment of the navigation. The top speed is around 170 km/h, but what is impressive is the average speed: 120 km/h in many stages. I cannot say that the roadbooks are difficult, it’s the pace that is too high for the level of navigation required”. The analysis of the first week of the rally by the experienced Adrien Van Beveren, one of the leading riders of the Yamaha Monster Team, is crystal clear.  

 

“You can make the difference if you ride like crazy. My strategy is to ride my race at my own pace. It’s a bit frustrating because you do a good stage and you think to have finished in the top 5 and you discover that you are only 10th. All in all I’m satisfied, for me it’s already a success to be here”.   “Riding with a free head is my priority”  - Adrien Van Beveren  

 

“We have seen so far a lot of yo-yoing in the classification, because there are many riders who simply push flat out to the detriment of the navigation. The top speed is around 170 km/h, but what is impressive is the average speed: 120 km/h in many stages. I cannot say that the roadbooks are difficult, it’s the pace that is too high for the level of navigation required”. The analysis of the first week of the rally by the experienced Adrien Van Beveren, one of the leading riders of the Yamaha Monster Team, is crystal clear.  

 

“You can make the difference if you ride like crazy. My strategy is to ride my race at my own pace. It’s a bit frustrating because you do a good stage and you think to have finished in the top 5 and you discover that you are only 10th. All in all I’m satisfied, for me it’s already a success to be here”.   

 “My target this year is different: I’m here to re-discover the adrenaline of the rally and enjoy riding without thinking of my crash, that has become a sort of obsession. I thought about stopping racing, but the long months of recovery at home made me understand how much I love this sport. We know it’s risky and we have to keep it in mind.  I have 17 screws in my collarbone, I underwent two surgeries, one for the shoulder and one on one eye as my face was smashed.  Of course I dream of a podium finish, but my priority is to return to enjoying riding with a free head”, commented the Frenchman with a big smile on his face.  

“Keep going on no matter what”  - Austin Jones 

 

His first rally was Morocco in 2018 but it didn’t take too long for Austin Jones to debut on the toughest rally in the world. Eighth in his first rookie year as a privateer in the South Racing Team, the 24-year old racer from Phoenix Arizona took the baton from Casey Currie, the first American to win the Dakar on 4 wheels, to defend the title for the Monster Energy Can-Am Team. Currently third of the overall, Austin Jones proved to have the necessary determination and humility to fight for an important result.   

 

“I knew everyone was going to push hard from day one so I went flat out in the prologue and I won. Opening the road the following day on a long stage with a lot of stones was quite demanding, but I enjoyed the stones more than anybody else. I tried very hard not to get flat tires, so I ended up in P1. It was a huge satisfaction, opening and winning the stage. On stage 2, we made a navigation mistake and we lost 8 minutes. It was my mistake, because we were discussing Gustavo (Gugelmin), my co-driver.  We were 50-50, so I took the responsibility of the decision but I was wrong. The following day a similar situation happened but I gave Gustavo white paper to decide the road and he did well. At the very end of the stage I got two punctures and we lost around 7 minutes finishing in P2 by 20 seconds”.   “Keep going on no matter what”  

- Austin Jones 

 

His first rally was Morocco in 2018 but it didn’t take too long for Austin Jones to debut on the toughest rally in the world. Eighth in his first rookie year as a privateer in the South Racing Team, the 24-year old racer from Phoenix Arizona took the baton from Casey Currie, the first American to win the Dakar on 4 wheels, to defend the title for the Monster Energy Can-Am Team. Currently third of the overall, Austin Jones proved to have the necessary determination and humility to fight for an important result.   

 

“I knew everyone was going to push hard from day one so I went flat out in the prologue and I won. Opening the road the following day on a long stage with a lot of stones was quite demanding, but I enjoyed the stones more than anybody else. I tried very hard not to get flat tires, so I ended up in P1. It was a huge satisfaction, opening and winning the stage. On stage 2, we made a navigation mistake and we lost 8 minutes. It was my mistake, because we were discussing Gustavo (Gugelmin), my co-driver.  We were 50-50, so I took the responsibility of the decision but I was wrong. The following day a similar situation happened but I gave Gustavo white paper to decide the road and he did well. At the very end of the stage I got two punctures and we lost around 7 minutes finishing in P2 by 20 seconds”.   

Consistency is Austin’s mantra on the rally. “The toughest moment at Dakar is keeping consistency every single day to minimize the problems. I learned this lesson last year, because we were doing extremely well but two days of mechanical problems were enough to spoil my race. 

 

“Usually I can drive within the limit, but the average speed is so high that you need to push. Full stop. I’m 90% on the limit, which is a lot, but everyone is so fast that you need to raise the bar”. 

 

What strikes this young American, multiple champion at the Baja 500 and Baja 1000 in the Trophy Truck Spec class, is his calm and focused mind-set. “I watched all the old Dakar videos and I studied how Nasser Al-Attyah, Stephane Peterhansel, Carlos Sainz and also Casey Currie built their success throughout the two-week rally. Winning a stage is cool but it is not crucial. It is more important to keep going no matter what and go for the overall win. Even if we want to push and win the stage, it is better to finish the stage, without losing too much time”

 

The incredibly talented Jones inherited the passion from his father Jesse Jones, but the meeting that steered his career from trucks trophy to Dakar , was when Nasser Al-Attiyah and Toby Price spent two weeks with Jones' to prepare and race the Baja with their team in 2019. “We had a lot of fun and Nasser told us all the stories of the rally. I absorbed like a sponge all the advice that Nasser gave me during those weeks, about driving style but also mentality. I learned from him the patience, some tips to read the terrain in order to understand when to push and when to set back, but also the importance of having a professional navigator and working as a team”. 

 

“To be in the car in four months in the Covid situation was the challenge” - Nani Roma 

 

There was a lot of expectation for the debut of the all new BRX Hunter - built by winning British engineering firm Prodrive. “As all the adventure seekers on the bivouac, the main motivation when I did my first Dakar in 1996 was to discover the world. This my 25th Dakar and for me it’s a big achievement to be able to be part of such a professional team as Prodrive and to have contributed to the development of the car. I spent almost two months in the UK at the factory and I was impressed by the level and the knowledge of these guys. They all have a background in WRC and they know how to win”. 

Experienced enough to manage the huge expectations from the outside, Nani Roma commented. “I am not concerned by the expectations from the others, I need to meet the team’s target and focus on my job. This is a new project and everyone in the team wants to win, but we have to be realistic. Four months ago there was no car. The project started from a white paper and if we look at the history books in Dakar, none won on the debut year with a new car”.  

 

“The first victory for me is that – despite the whole pandemic situation – we succeeded to finish the car and be here. We didn’t do any race before so already not having suffered mechanical issues is a success”. 

"It's hard for me," states 2014 winner Roma, “because when you are used to speaking your mother language everything is automatic, while with the instructions in French, it always took a while in my head to react. You lose a bit when you go flat out, but it is like it is”.   

 

The Dakar rumbles on though, and thousands of km still stand between the competitors and the finish line on January 12th. Watch this space! In a race where navigation is crucial and the role of the navigator has become essential, Nani Roma had to overcome the ultimate challenge to change co-driver on December 24th after compatriot Dani Oliveras tested positive at home before Christmas and was unable to travel to the Middle East. Frenchman Alex Winocq took Oliveras' place at the Bahrain Raid Xtreme team. 

 

"It's hard for me," states 2014 winner Roma, “because when you are used to speaking your mother language everything is automatic, while with the instructions in French, it always took a while in my head to react. You lose a bit when you go flat out, but it is like it is”.   

 

The Dakar rumbles on though, and thousands of km still stand between the competitors and the finish line on January 12th. Watch this space! 

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