Ricky Brabec Wins Dakar Rally for the 2nd Time

New-generation Honda CRF450 Rally rules in its debut.

For the second time in four years, Monster Energy Honda racer Ricky Brabec has attained victory in the prestigious Dakar Rally, which ended Friday, Jan. 19 on the Saudi Arabian shores of the Red Sea. In 2020, the Californian became the first American to win the Motorcycle class in the grueling event and, four years and two days later, he added the 46th edition to his win list.

A desert-racing native of Southern California, Brabec won the 2014 edition of the SCORE Baja 1000 and earned AMA Hare & Hound National Championships in 2014 and 2016. A protégé of Baja legend and longtime Honda partner Johnny Campbell, Brabec signed with the Monster Energy Honda team for the 2015 season and campaigned the Dakar Rally four times before winning in his fifth try. (He had come agonizingly close the previous year, only to be thwarted by a late a technical issue.) Since that 2020 success, Brabec finished second and seventh in 2021 and 2022, before a technical issue forced him out of last year’s race. Now he becomes the 13th rider to top the Dakar Rally on more than one occasion.

“It’s a nice way to start the year with a victory,” Brabec said at the finish. “It wasn’t easy, as the course was really tough and so was the competition. Ross and my own team kept me on my toes, but not just me; I think we were keeping everyone on each other’s toes. It was definitely a fight to the end for everyone. I’m really happy we’re all here and all safe and we can go home. This time was a little bit different, as I feel like this one was more earned, as it was a lot tougher. In 2020, we had a big gap from the get-go. Here, I think me and Ross spent three days with a couple of seconds’ difference. It was a tight race for all of us. I think between first and third, there are eleven minutes or something, whatever Adrien got, but it’s been a tight race and 10 minutes is not a big gap here on the rally. I had two good days, two opportunities to make a good push, but also stage 11 was a scare factor for me because I knew Ross was starting behind me, 18 minutes behind, and if he caught me it would be over. Stage 11 was hard, but I stayed focused, got to the finishing line and didn’t lose too much time, so I’m really happy with this and I’m really happy for the team. I’m happy for all of us; we did an excellent job all of the two weeks. I think No. 9 will be my lucky number from now on.”

The fifth Dakar Rally edition held in Saudi Arabia, this year’s event kicked off with a Jan. 5 prologue in the Northwestern city of AlUla and ran 4,766 miles to the east and back, before finishing in Yanbu on Jan. 19. Along the way, competitors completed 2,878 miles of “specials” (timed sections that determine the winners), including a new two-day “48 Hour Chrono” stage in Saudi Arabia’s desolate Empty Quarter, where racers spent a remote overnight with no technical support and minimal communication with the outside world. Competitors regularly departed the overnight bivouacs in the pre-dawn hours and spent long, cold hours in liaisons (untimed transfer sections, completion of which was nonetheless obligatory). Only a single rest day provided reprieve from the harsh conditions.

Monster Energy Honda controlled the race for much of the way, with Spaniard Tosha Schareina topping the prologue and Chilean José Ignacio “Nacho” Cornejo assuming a one-day ownership of the overall lead after the fourth full stage. Brabec took over the top overall spot after the completion of the pivotal 48 Hour Chrono stage, never to relinquish it. The team was both fast (topping seven stages and the prologue as well as sweeping stage podiums on two occasions) and balanced (with five of six riders taking wins); four riders reached the finish. In addition to Brabec’s overall win, his French teammate Adrien Van Beveren took an overall podium position in third, with Cornejo finishing sixth.

“To Ricky and the entire Monster Energy Honda team, congratulations from the Honda family back here in the U.S., including associates, dealers and customers,” said Jeremy McGuire, senior manager of customer engagement at American Honda. “The team’s performance this year showed that its preparation and strategy were unmatched, and the skill, calculation and teamwork exhibited by all of the riders were nothing short of inspiring. With his second win in the most grueling off-road competition in the world, Ricky shows that Honda and America are serious forces to reckon with in the world of off-road racing.”

Unfortunately, Brabec’s countryman, Skyler Howes (making his fourth Dakar appearance but his first with the Honda team), was one of those who didn’t finish; the Utah resident was forced to drop out on the first day of the 48 Hour Chrono stage, but he’s eager to return to the Dakar podium in the future.

“It’s unfortunate that I had to exit the rally on stage 6, but there is always a silver lining,” Howes said. “We are able to learn from everything that happened and apply it to coming back even stronger next year. It is really impressive to see what the team was able to accomplish in just a short time with this new bike. I only joined the team in September, and in the grand scheme of things, didn’t have much time to adapt to the new bike or learn the ways of the team. To see how quickly they could turn this CRF450 RALLY into a winning bike is amazing and to become as comfortable as I did on the bike and in the team is a really awesome feeling and gives me a lot of confidence heading into the future. I’m really excited to see the ways we can continue to improve to take on the challenges of the rest of the W2RC championship and next Dakar.”

The Dakar Rally began in 1979 in Europe and Africa, and Honda first scored a win in 1982, at the hands of XR550-mounted Cyril Neveu. The Frenchman added a second victory four years later aboard the NXR750V, then repeated the following year. Italian Edi Orioli brought Honda a third-consecutive win in 1988 with the NXR800V, which Frenchman Gilles Lalay rode to victory the following year. A dry spell for Honda followed, but Brabec put the brand back on top with the CRF450 RALLY in 2020, by which point the rally was taking place in Saudi Arabia. Brabec’s then-teammate Kevin Benavides won the following year, and this year’s success marks the eighth win for Honda (and the first for the next-generation CRF450 RALLY in its debut).

With the team fully deserving of some rest and recuperation, it will reconvene in April for the BP Ultimate Rally-Raid in Portugal from April 2-7.

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