Well, he did it! Ricky Brabec brought the win to Honda – their first Dakar victory since 1989 (won by the late Gilles Lalay on the NRX800). Brabec was a worthy winner having shown probably the most complete skills, being able to navigate skilfully and speedily even when leading out – and reading the race so well, always on point with his strategy. And he was supported so ably by his high-power team in Kevin Benevides, Joan Barreda and Jose Cornejo.
Joining Brabec on the podium were Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla and Red Bull KTM’s Toby Price (winner last year). Quintanilla for the second year running ran out of time to pull the winner in. He rode a stunning Stage 11 to halve the gap to Brabec, but there were too few kilometres in the final stage to bring back the rest – besides in having to lead out on the last day meant he could never really make up the difference. Toby Price rode a great rally but didn’t have an answer for Brabec. And after his experience in stage seven, tending to Paulo Goncalves, the dangers could well have sat heavy on him.
RUNNING OUT OF ROAD(BOOK)
Brabec had taken the lead of the overall standings as early as stage three, but most thought this temporary and the lead would swap back and forth as each rider would have a strong day followed by a weaker day when they’d have to lead out due to the previous day’s performance – the burden of opening the trail just too much to again record a fast time. Only Brabec, working intelligently with his team, managed his losses (on lead-out days) better than anyone.
When Brabec showed he could lead and contain his time losses it would seem the oppo’s strategy then fell back on waiting for Brabec to have a bad day, through a challenging navigational stage, maybe a mechanical setback, or just pure numeric chance – could he go the whole rally without a bad day?
So when it came to stage 10 and Brabec still had a commanding lead it seemed this would be the (last?) chance, one way or another. It was the first of two marathon stages with a long 534km special with big dunes at the end of the stage. Brabec would ride safe, the KTM/Husky boys would attack. Only that didn’t happen, definitely Quintanilla and Price tried, but Brabec together with teammate Barreda went faster! And then the stage was cut short, by about half – just 223km were completed before the stage had to abandoned due to high winds and stretched emergency cover. Price and Quintanilla had lost more time and were left without the tools (the kilometres) to do their job.
With just two stages remaining and over 25 minutes to pull in, Quintanilla gave it his all in stage 11 and was able to halve the gap to Brabec (down to 14 minutes), while Price wasn’t able to keep up with the Chilean’s pace he too pulled some time back (now 22 minutes behind) and displaced Barreda for the final podium position.
Quintanilla was therefore in the wrong place for the final stage of the rally – leading out. He had the support of KTM’s Walkner and Benavides (who’s placed second and third in stage 11), but Brabec having been 10th on stage 11 had plenty of tracks to chase in that final short 167km stage. So instead – demonstrating one last time his superiority – Brabec stole time on his rivals, putting himself almost three minutes more to the good.
THE MANUFACTURERS’ POSITIONS
Honda. 1st Brabec, 4th Cornejo, 7th Barreda, 19th K Benavides. Yep, Honda won and got all four men home. They took six stage wins and with the exception of Benavides’ one engine break the Hondas went the distance on one engine each. As such they’ve overcome many issues in one Dakar. They’ve got the fastest rider in their team, they’ve got a team that works together, they’ve got the strategy sorted and they’ve got a bike that goes the distance. A top job beginning to end.
KTM. 3rd Price, 5th Walkner, 6th L Benavides, DNF Sunderland. KTM took three stage wins along the way, two to Price, one to privateer Ross Branch (so not a works win), oh, and a very nearly with Sunderland. The strategy looked similar to 2019, not go too hard in the first week and be in the right place when the opposition goes to pieces. Only Honda stayed strong, so the rabbit beat the dog. It didn’t help losing Sunderland early on and with Walkner suffering a lurgy (sore throat) also didn’t help. Nothing terribly amiss in the team this year, it just didn’t pan out. Question is for 2021 do they need to swap to full attack from the start?
Husqvarna. 2nd Quintanilla, 10th Short. This is a small team, so to pick up the runner-up is pretty damn good. Quintanilla must feel bitter-sweet about his ride. He did well, won two stages, had the speed, maybe suffered for the shortening of stage 10, not to mention the cancellation of stage eight. It’s a could-of, would-of situation, although Quintanilla certainly has confirmed he’s a Dakar top gun. Short made a steady start, then just when he got going the wheels – or at least the tyre – fell off his wagon. We’ll remember his Dakar for his brilliant display of riding on a rim alone.
Yamaha. 13th Faggotter, 15th McCanney. Not a year for headlining for Yamaha, with a big crash ending Van Beveren’s Dakar early and a small crash ending de Soultrait’s only a little later. However, there’s a cool story in McCanney’s journey, maybe not the top rookie but after feeling his way, to post 7th and then 6th in stages 10 and 11 showed great potential for the future. Faggotter is not a works team rider, riding under the Yamaha Australia banner, but as ever this veteran knows how to ride the big campaigns, a good result.
Sherco. 12th Metge. The French team started well and were hanging around the lower leaderboard, but the stages wore the team away, leaving Metge – who never quite made it into the top-10 – alone a valiant 12th.
Gas Gas. 18th Sanz. If you could only take one rider to the Dakar, you’s take Laia Sanz. This year she finished her 10th Dakar from 10 starts – finishing 10 hours ahead of the next female competitor. This is also a new start for Gas Gas, after all Sanz was riding a KTM 450RR in Gas Gas branding. All told a successful start for the brand under new management (as it were) – will we see a bigger (okay two-rider) team for 2021?.
“It’s a dream come true. Hopefully we can come back next year and repeat it. I know that it’s not going to be easy as the Husky and KTM boys will be breathing down our necks. I’m really excited to be here for Honda and for America as well. To be the only American to accomplish this goal is amazing. I think it’s really a dream come true.”
“I feel amazing. To spend most of 2019 in recovery and now to be here with my best ever result makes me extremely grateful. I never thought that I would be in this position at the beginning of the race. I would like to thank the team for their hard work over these two weeks – they have done an amazing job. Overall, my race has gone really well, it’s been a tough event for everybody, and the main goal was always to reach the finish. A podium at the Dakar is like a dream come true, especially after such a hard one this year. I still want that win so I’ll work hard and be back next year.”
“I’m really happy with another podium at the Dakar – every time I’ve made it to the finish at this event I’ve got onto the podium. So far, I’m either a number one or a number three guy. The most important thing is to be here safely at the finish. Obviously, we came here to win, but it just wasn’t our year. Yeah, after 18 wins in a row it would have been nice to get a 19th, but I think KTM’s winning streak won’t be topped for a very long time. We’ll go away now, regroup and come back stronger for 2021 and take that number one plate back.”
2020 Dakar Rally
1.Ricky Brabec Monster Energy Honda / USA 40:02.36
2. Pablo Quintanilla Rockstar Energy Husqvarna / CHL +16.26
3. Toby Price Red Bull KTM / AUS +24.06
4. Jose Cornejo Monster Energy Honda / CHL +31.43
5. Matthias Walkner Red Bull KTM / AUT +35.00
6. Luciano Benavides Red Bull KTM / ARG +37.34
7. Joan Barreda Bort Monster Energy Honda / ESP +50.57
8. Franco Caimi Monster Energy Yamaha / ARG +1:42.35
9. Skyler Howes KLYMCIW Racing / USA + 2:04.01
10. Andrew Short Rockstar Energy Husqvarna / USA +2:10.40