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HRC Shakedown

Dakar Rally - Racers Sometimes Have To Be Mechanics

Jan 142020

To win the Dakar Rally, you’ve got to have it all. Speed alone is not enough; driving and riding techniques go hand in hand with navigation and advanced mechanical skills. But how do you fix a complicated vehicle comprising thousands of parts?

Factory pilots rely heavily on the support of their teams, but they still need to know wrenching basics once they are in the desert or during the marathon stages, where assistance is not allowed.

“A small case located on the chassis contains all the necessary tools to disassemble a bike,” Monster Energy Honda Chief Mechanic Hide Hanawa explains. “A bike is basically made of around 2,500 parts fixed by bolts—they represent more than the half of the components—so most of the tools are meant to remove sockets, bolts, and screws.

“Since Honda rejoined the Dakar Rally with a factory team in 2013, the CRF450 Rally has been simplified year after year. At the same time, the machine is more reliable, so usually riders don’t need to intervene on the bike, unless there is an emergency. In a marathon stage, they don’t remove the tools, but they check wheel spokes, engine oil, and condition of the tires. They also adjust suspension, if necessary.”


Considering recent technological developments, the biggest challenge nowadays is diagnosis of an electronic failure. In this case, the ECU provides a code that the rider or driver can share with team. The problem can’t be fixed remotely, but with that code, the team can make a diagnosis and suggest a fix.

Because working on a vehicle in the field can present its own challenges, Honda organizes a workshop before each rally to refresh its riders about the main procedures to perform on the machine and how to detect potential problems.

Tools that Dakar Athletes Carry

Among the Honda riders, Ricky Brabec has perhaps the strongest mechanical background. This know-how is part of the American culture. In the US, kids often begin riding with their parents, who double as mechanics, passing their experience and knowledge along on the trail. This is how Brabec got his start, and that experience pays off to this day.

Considering the sheer number of parts, how long does it take to disassemble an entire motorcycle? “Around one hour,” Hanawa says. “I can do it in 45 minutes. And to change one wheel? Two minutes!”

Spare motorcycle parts and tools:

   1. Jumper cables

   2. Knife

   3. Axle wrench

   4. Drive chain parts

   5. Chain breaker

   6. Brake and clutch levers

   7. Ratchet

   8. Sockets

   9. Wrenches

   10. T-handle and extension

   11. Screwdriver

   12. X wrench

On the four-wheel side, the Monster Energy Can-Am Team carries two bags of spare parts and tools. The first one, located on the side of the buggy, is for major interventions. The second, housed under the co-driver’s seat, contains tools to replace the CVT belt and an air gun to change tires in event of a puncture, something that was quite likely during the early stages of this year’s race because of the rocky course. Changing a tire is takes from 2 to 3 minutes. Casey Currie had no punctures on stage one, two on stage two, and one on stage three.

In additional to the following tools, spare parts carried on the car also include a radius arm, a battery, a bottle for the air gun, and a tire:

   1. Driveshaft socket

   2. Wheel tool

   3. Adjustable wrench

   4. Pliers

   5. Bar

   6. Hammer

   7. Wrenches

   8. Hex keys

“Casey has a good feeling about mechanical issues,” Currie’s chief mechanic Pedro Caixa says. “His co-driver, Sean Berriman, has very good mechanical skills. We hope they don’t have to use the first bag. For an emergency, I prepared for them a detailed manual with pictures and step-by step instructions from how to change the CVT belt, the steering shaft, radius arms, or shocks. They also have a table with the normal and alarm values for engine coolant temperatures, belt temperature, fuel pressure, and battery voltage.”