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.