DAKAR MOTORBIKES PREVIEW- What to Look For In The Bikes Class
By Scotty Breauxman
Counting down the final days leading up to the world’s longest rally race, we enter the post Coma-Despres era anticipating great battles and strategic maneuvering toward the podium finish in Buenos Aries. RDC’s foot soldiers are on the ground in Argentina ready to capture the drama in all categories, sending back photos and stories to share with you. In this “pre-rally” report we will cover the basics of what to expect from the motorbikes and the various dynamics of our 2-wheeled friends covering 14 days of racing. We also breakdown the American’s hope and what matters to each rider.
NO NUMBER 1
For the first time since the inception of the Dakar Rally in 1979, the motorbikes category will be absent of a former winner and, accordingly, no #1 plate runner. 2016 will likely see a larger number of stage winners as the field is full of talent, both young and more experienced. But as we have learned from last years rally winner, stage wins aren’t a pre-requisite for the title.
HRC’s Joan Barreda, has 13 prior stage wins in five years and is no longer considered a youngster. He’s got the speed and, with it, has lost the OA title to impatience and youth. Last year, after holding the lead into the 2nd half of the rally, Barreda literally threw the rally away to a more patient and wiser Marc Coma. These life lessons, combined with the support of HRC’s maturing effort, make Barreda a betting man’s favorite to wear the #1 plate in 2017, but only by a narrow margin. After that, it’s really a toss up between as many a 10 other riders who could win the whole thing. Barreda’s teammate Paulo “Speedy” Goncalves (HRC) is your top seed after finishing 2nd to Coma last year and owning the 2014 World Championship. We like his chances also.
Joan Barreda poses the biggest threat to KTM’s stable of young guns. Photo courtesy of HRC
Among the other experienced Dakar riders, Helder Rodrigues (YAM), Ruben Faria (HUS) and KTM’s Casteu, Pain and Viladoms could each put together an overall win. We also expect Laia Sanz to have strong days in the top 10 and wouldn’t be surprised by a podium stage or two.
YAMAHA’S Helder Rodrigues has the most successful track record of any rider in the DAKAR field. Photo Courtesy of YAMAHA
Of the youngsters, or less experienced Dakar starters, KTM’s Toby Price (AUS) and Mathias Walkner (AUT) pose the biggest threats to the others along with Pablo Quintanilla (CHL). I really like Prices prospects to wage war with Barreda and expect this dual to take center stage. What matters to Quintanilla is what Husqvarna’s bivouac looks like and how much they bring from sister company KTM’s tent. Quintanilla amazed the entire field 2 years ago with incredible jump from a 100+ seed but this year the route will skip the Chilean’s home turf. American Ian Blythe rounds out this topic with his speed and youthfulness, yet mostly hindered as a privateer.
Aussie Ace: KTM’s Toby Price is the single biggest risk to Barreda & the HRC Stable. Photo courtesy of Carlos Jimeno via FB
KEYS TO SUCCESS
There are two keys needed to unlock this door: First, A clean start through the long stage 2 of 786 KM is essential to success. Next, remaining patient and consistent will payoff for the riders who are in the position to strike in the final 3 stages, including the 900+ KM penultimate Stage 12.
THE BIVOUAC FACTOR
Factory KTM has an edge over HRC in the bivouac while the youth of YAMAHA and HUSKY’s programs seem to lack the experience needed to win. In all categories, this has proven to be deciding element in the modern era of the Dakar.
With such little representation by the US, it’s easier for us to key into the dynamics of their respective efforts in this 2016 edition. The thing to watch here is how each of the 5 Americans, all rookies, will settle into the field versus their relative seeding through the first 5 stages into Bolivia. Apart from Ricky Brabec, the other yanks are wise to pace themselves without regard to the short prologue. Brabec however, is likely to “blitz” on the short opener, improving himself, perhaps into the top 15 before Special Stage 1 out of Rosario. He actually needs to do this.
#48 RICKY BRABEC (HRC HONDA)
After a hard-earned SCORE title, the 24 year old Brabec got the nod from HRC and he’s the only hope right now for America’s first Dakar bike victory in a few years. But first he has to get himself on the map and, if he can finish this rally, keep his seat at the dinner table. He’ll want to get some camera time and that means starting out near the front and taking some well-needed chances in the prologue. Its hard to call this one, Brabec is said to be a “water-carrier” for top seeds Barreda or Goncalves, which means he needs to stay behind them and to keep his bike in tact to provide parts for them if needed. It will be exciting and interesting to see how Brabec does at this job and whether he can impress and surprise the way the late Kurt Caselli did in 3 years ago, or not.
As the rally progresses, the first scoring standard for Smith, Bright and Blythe is finishing the stages and then how they move up in the standings. We will watch patiently to see how they each struggle with the certain challenges that face them. In the bivouac, all of the Americans will seem connected as a team even though they are from 3 or 4 different camps. Because we are considered such underdogs with limited resources there is more commeradrie between all these guys than rivalry.
Next to #2 seeded KTM’s Toby Price, BAJA 1000 Champ Ricky Brabec has the fastest “raw” speed in the field and will likely jump up from 48th into the top 15 on the first prologue stage. Photo courtesy of HRC
103 Alexander Smith (Husqvarna)- He is humble, reserved and mature for a 30 yea- old racer but only has one “real” rally under his belt. I like his chances to move up in the field based on his intellect and youthfulness.
Alexander Smith (HUS) prepared at Rally Maroc, his first such rally.
105 Scott Bright (Rally Pan AM KTM)- “Scotty” won the 2014 BAJA RALLY, his first ever, but landed in Buenos Aries coming off a recent wrist injury. He can’t be 100% yet and just needs to finish this rally, perhaps in the top 30 or 40, which is all that can be expected and hoped for. No spring chicken, he’s fast and smart.
106 Ian Blythe (Rally Pan AM KTM)- One of America’s best sprinters, Blythe is young enough to be a future Dakar winner and America’s first. He’ll need to finish his first with a top 15 to get picked up by a bigger team next year. Rally Pan Am is a seasoned team, but relatively under-funded and short on resources. There’s a lot of heart there to make up for the lack of finances, but that only goes so far.
145 Carroll Gittere- The accomplished superbike rider has dabbled in off road and commited himself vigorously to finishing this rally, living out of his camper van and training in the Nevada desert all summer.
A final note on the Americans and why we are under-represented, especially on the motorbikes: It’s like the French language and culture. It’s a foreign thing and that makes it a scarce resource in the US motorsports media. Accordingly US sponsors have closed there checkbooks and turn a blind eye to it. Robby Gordon has been carrying the torch for us for over a decade but until an American wins this event, we will be underdogs in the world’s longest off road race. Until then we have the great team at RDC to bring us all the highlights.
Scotty Breauxman is a moto-journalist and regular contributor to RDC specializing in Baja CA and Dakar Rally. As the creator and General Director of Mexico’s first Dakar-style rally raid, the BAJA RALLY, Breauxman shares his unique perspective and insights into the rally racing scene for RDC.