Monster Energy Honda continued their scourge of South American rally soil as Paulo Gonçalves joined Kevin Benavides as a winner of a round in the 2018 FIM Cross Country Rallies series by claiming the prestigious (and difficult) Desafio Ruta 40 in Argentina: the second year in a row the red bikes have conquered this tricky fixture.
The Portuguese veteran defied the speed of teammates like Benavides (who sadly crashed and sustained a suspected concussion on the first stage of five) and Ricky Brabec and other Dakar rivals like the factory KTM and Husqvarna squads to narrowly secure his first major triumph in the latter half of 2018 and to bury some of the disappointment of missing the Dakar due to injury.
“I came with the idea of continuing to improve my pace after a long time without racing and in the end we were able to win the rally,” #4 said. “I am happy for myself, and also for all my team-mates and for the guys who got injured; we hope they can recover quickly. This victory is for them too. We will now try to improve the pace a bit to get the Dakar right. The race in general was tough, but that second day was too much. From the physical point of view it has been a great test for me. The rivals are very strong and that forced us to give our best to win.”
The Ruta 40 cut across a range of gnarly Argentine topography. Stage four was key in allowing Gonçalves to rise atop the final podium however it was his steady 4th position in the 320km brutal second day that was also pivotal. The trek took the riders through the Fiambala desert but was demanding and limiting with the terrain they could attack at race speed. “[it] was one of the hardest stages I've had in my entire life,” Gonçalves said. “320 kilometres practically everything off-piste, with dry rivers and very broken up track.”
Experience counted, and while the crew were able to see Gonçalves gaining form they had to deal with the injury setbacks to Benavides (who is joint-leading the FIM standings with one round in Morocco) and stand-in rider Mathias Bellino. Thankfully Brabec made it to the finish arch with fifth position overall.
The Monster Energy factory HRC team remain on the continent and with a view to more training and preparation for the Desafio Ina Rally in Peru in the next two weeks.