All the analysis, debriefs and recuperation from the 2018 Dakar Rally will have been completed and logged. Hardened motorcycle racers from the South American spectacle now face the latest challenge in their competitive calendar this year with the launch of the six-round 2018 FIM Cross Countries Rally World Championship.
At present the Monster Energy Honda Team and the might of HRC and their CRF450 Rally hardware are ploughing through the terrain of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and six days of sandy, rocky riding to cover more than 2000km of special stages until the 29th of March.
Dakar protagonists like Kevin Benavides, Ricky Brabec, Michael Metge and new recruit Jose Ignacio Cornejo will be joined by veteran Paolo Gonçalves for the opening challenge of a fixture list that runs until October and will take in visits to Qatar, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Morocco. The Portuguese sadly missed the last incarnation of the Dakar due to injury; a predicament now faced by prolific Dakar stage winner Joan Barreda, with the Spaniard in the recovery phases of wrist surgery performed in mid-February.
The Dakar winner’s trophy might be the most sought after prize in Rally but the blooming FIM series, relatively new in creation, is increasing in profile and importance with each passing year. It has become a valuable test bench and stage for the factories to sharpen their ideas and technology – and for the riders to develop their racing and navigation skills – in the lead up to the ‘big one’ in South America.
“I have my sights set on the world championship title, which I have as a career goal,” commented Dakar runner-up Benavides. “Last year I arrived in terrible shape [through injury]. This time, the conditions are different. We can expect the desert of Abu Dhabi to be dangerous, so it will be necessary to be cautious. The goal is to try to be on the podium.”
“The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge was my first rally with Team HRC Rally in 2015,” recalled Brabec. “I am very excited to return to the competition after the Dakar, and to return here with the dunes of a desert as special as this, to have fun on the rally bike.”