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Kevin Benavides at the 2019 Dakar HRC Shoot
NEWS

Leave your hat on: getting Dakar helmets ready for Rally

Jan 112019

A Dakar Rally rider’s lid is not only the most important (and potentially life-saving) part of his kit but it is also one of the few forms of personal expression: the colours, logos and design often carrying extra significance for the athlete. Inside the helmet a racer will pass many hours talking, encouraging and shouting at his-or-herself. The 5000km, two-week trek that is the 2019 Dakar will bring a flurry of emotions as the rally charges through the sand and landscapes of Peru. Victory and elation is often offset by disappointment or misfortune. In the worst cases: pain and anguish.

Motorsport is often one of the loneliest pursuits and it does not come more personally draining and difficult than the hours in the saddle required at the Dakar. Riders’ decisions and contracts for helmets and their comfort is a particular choice but the final preparation and customisation – at least for the Monster Energy HRC crew with their focus on the final prize - falls down to the tools and talented eye of Slim Grafix’s Petr Šimák. The Czech has been charged with the shades of the Honda elite (Joan Barreda, Paulo Gonçalves, Jose Ignacio Cornejo, Ricky Brabec and Kevin Benavides) and his work has been seen throughout a number of racing scenes like F1, Speedway, Road Racing, Rally and extreme sports since the beginning of the century.

“Since childhood I was close to the racing scene,” he says. “My uncle was a 1980 European Karting champion and we followed him to the races. I was very interested in MotoGP, Formula 1, Motocross and Speedway but unfortunately growing up in that era meant there wasn’t really the chance for me to race bikes or karts as a kid. As a teenager I started painting moped helmets for myself and my friends. For some years I custom painted motorcycles and helmets in Southern California and then in 2002 I started my own brand in Prague.”

 

The riders rely on Šimák’s skill and ability to deliver the versions of helmets necessary to get through the rigours of Dakar. Pulling him away from the final stages of preparation for the 2019 edition of the world famous race we wanted to know more about the process…

"Creating original designs, the preparation, painting and then assembly takes from 10 to 30 hours."

Petr, do you normally get free licence with the HRC guys or do they direct you with their own special colours and ideas?

I think both. The riders, and people like Joe Parsons from Monster Energy, have some ideas and I also come up with some. We listen to each other and we work it out. I enjoy this co-operation and part of the job so much.

How long does it take to design and paint a race helmet?

It really depends on the difficulty of a certain scheme. Creating original designs, the preparation, painting and then assembly takes from 10 to 30 hours. I would say an average or uncomplicated race helmet is around 15-20 hours.

Helmets now come in some advanced shapes and with different technology like seamless peaks. Does this make the job harder or easier for you? 

Before it was just black rubber trims, now it's all kinds of shapes and colours and moulded plastics. Sometimes adhesion for taping is not so good but it’s nothing we cannot handle.

" Seeing helmets with my work winning the Dakar, Speedway Grand Prix and WorldSBK or taking part in MotoGP, Formula 1 or Le Mans is quite emotional and satisfying."

What’s the most satisfying part? Seeing the finished helmet and being happy with the job or watching the athlete wearing it in action and on TV? 

Both, for sure. Seeing helmets with my work winning the Dakar, Speedway Grand Prix and WorldSBK or taking part in MotoGP, Formula 1 or Le Mans is quite emotional and satisfying. Also finishing the job with clearcoat and looking at the final piece is very satisfying.

Rally helmets get a fair share of abuse from sand, rocks, debris, sweat: is it a bit like ruining a piece of art?!

It's the part of the show; helmets get destroyed but fortunately the images and videos remain. The most important thing is that the riders don't get hurt. One crashed helmet is an opportunity to do another, better one. I remember painting a helmet for a sponsor, working all day and night and driving to the WorldSBK race in Brno without sleeping a minute. I didn't even have time to take a picture and the rider got taken out in Turn 1 completely destroying the helmet! That was a bummer.

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