As the celebrated Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia gets set to clear its midway point of the 14-stage, several Monster Energy/Honda HRC racers are in excellent position to battle for the overall motorcycle class division title.
Through six stages of racing Monster Energy/Honda HRC athletes have accrued three stage victories, with former champion Ricky Brabec winning the opening (prologue) stage, Joan “Bang-Bang” Barreda winning Stage 4 and Adrien Van Beveren winning Stage 5. In addition, Pablo Quintanilla (2nd, Stage 4) and Jose Cornejo (2nd, Stage 5) scored stage podium finishes for Monster Energy/Honda HRC. Both Van Beveren (5th overall) and Quintanilla (6th), along with Barreda (4th), a privateer who’s receiving support from both Monster Energy and Honda HRC, are all well within striking distance of Dakar’s overall leader through six stages, American Skyler Howes (Husqvarna).
All totaled, the Monster Energy/Honda HRC racers, minus Brabec who was forced to retire from the race after a gnarly crash in Stage 3, are all within 10-12 minutes of Howes.
“Ten minutes in this sport is nothing,” noted Monster Energy’s Joe Parsons, who’s embedded with the Monster Energy/Honda HRC team in Saudi Arabia. “The race is no where near over… there’s so much more to go.” Parsons also cautioned that, at this point of the race, winning a stage doesn’t always work in a racer’s favor. “Stage winners at Dakar start first the following stage. So with that the stage’s navigation falls on the lead bike, leaving first tracks for the other racers to follow – or not. So you’re better off placing 4th, 5th – and keeping close to the lead bike.”
Van Beveren commented on his Stage 5 victory: “I’m very happy, but it was really tough. I for sure gave it my all. The terrain was very rough, very off-piste (off-piste being a mountain sports term meaning “away from the prepared/groomed run,” aka out-of-bounds). 100 kilometers were off-piste, with only the last three kilometers being on roads. It was tough, but it gave me a chance to make up time.”
Added Quintanilla: “The racing is really tough. The specials (special stages) are more difficult than last year, and maybe more dangerous also. But the race is just beginning. We will see some surprises. And we need to keep in mind, for our bodies, that the race is very long. Everyone is pushing the rhythm, so it is important not to lose minutes.”
With Van Beveren 12 minutes and 20 seconds out of the lead, and Quintanilla just two seconds back of Van Beveren, both racers are in excellent position. Leading the Monster Energy-backed racers at Dakar is veteran Barreda (10:57 back), who sits just four wins shy of the overall Dakar stage win record of 33 (held by Stephane Peterhansel and Cyril Despres). Running in his 13th Dakar Rally, Barreda, who’s in 4th place overall, is looking to improve on his personal-best 5th place finish in the final standings (2017 & ’22).
“For me, this was kind of a different year,” said Barreda, battling back from injury in the off season. “I keep training and working every day, so to have the opportunity to have my own team, with Monster and Honda, is a dream come true for me. I know that this may be one my last years on the bike, so it will be good to finish the job.”
The 2023 Dakar Rally resumes on Saturday with Stage 7, running between Riyadh and Al Duwadimi.