To Americans, winning the Dakar is like planet Mars: We can see it sometimes but no one has ever been there yet.
This is not a story about the world’s best rally racer and being the first Australian to win the Dakar Rally. That would be about Toby Price, the hell-man who just sealed KTM’s 15th straight win and only the third person in ten years to win the event.
No. This story is about 5 American rookies who went down to South America in hopes of simply finishing the longest, and arguably toughest motorsports event on earth. All rookies, none of these riders could have known what they would face, how hard it would be or the manners in which their lives would be changed forever. Of the five starters, four made it to the finish and each of those did notably well.
To Americans, winning the Dakar is like planet Mars: We can see it sometimes but no one has ever been there yet. Complicated, costly and grueling, the 36 year-old-event has eluded Americans every time. Names like Blais, Gordon, LaPorte, & Lewis have gotten very close but the claim remains un-staked. As time goes on and new riders emerge, there is new hope for US fans who follow this race, but it won’t likely be an overnight sensation.
Ricky Brabec, Team HRC HONDA– Seeded 48th; Finished 9th OA
Last year, the former 1x SCORE & Baja 1000 Champion was given an rare opportunity to ride on factory HONDA’s HRC Rally Team with a nod from ASO’s US Ambassador Quinn Cody. Single with no kids, 24 y.o. Brabec was at the top of Cody’s short list be the chosen one for this 2016 Dakar.
“There a lot of guys I think would do well at the Dakar but either age or other contracts ruled them out”, Cody explains, “In the end, Ricky had no baggage, was eager to learn and did great. I knew if he was able to ride his own race and not have to do too much work for his teammates, that he would finish in the top 10”.
Of the original 5 riders on the team Brabec was the best finisher after top seeds Joan Barreda and Paulo Goncalves dropped out of the rally, both mechanical issues and injuries.
In a previous mid-rally report, Fingers Crossed for Ricky Brabec, RDC contended that America had been no closer then 5 years to a champion Dakar rider. That was before Brabec’s noteworthy climb from a 48th seed into a 9th overall finish. He could be the first American to win the Dakar but Ricky Brabec will have to work extremely hard and with laser focus on the single goal. Anything less than 100% commitment would be futile, especially having KTM’s Toby Price to contend with.
Ian Blythe, Team Rally Pan AM– Seeded 106th; Finished 26th OA
The 24 year old Blythe is a notably fast rider with ISDE and World Championship Enduro experience. He qualified for the 2015 Dakar by winning the Dakar Challenge in 2014 with a 3rd OA at the Australasian Safari. Blythe made a notable late rally charge after taking his time to settle in during the first half. He posted an 11th and 8th in a pair of final stages. It was apparent that just getting back to Buenos Aries was his main goal and, thus, mission accomplished. It seems realistic to expect a funding package for his return attempt in 2017.
Alexander Smith, HT HUSQVARNA- Seeded 103rd; Finished 37th
Son of the Legendary Malcolm Smith, the 30 year old Smith has Husqvarna in his DNA. He got the nod to ride with a satellite Husky team going in his first Dakar with his shakedown at the Moroccan Rally last October. He used that first rally to cut his teeth and that proved to keep him steady in South America. Humble, mature and quite accomplished at his age, Smith paced himself for a finish and rode consistently and wisely in the middle of the pack on each stage and advance slowly and steadily. He only improved on each stage and never reversed his ranking as he progressed. Its likely he’ll get another shot next year.
Scott Bright, Team Rally Pan AM– Seeded 105th; Finished 53rd
It’s really impressive that Scott Bright finished the rally considering he suffered two broken arms in September, one of which was not nearly 100% when he started. Known for his toughness and persevering nature, he was not ever going to give up. In preparation for this challenge, Bright competed in the Sardegna Rally in Italy, the Cortez Rally in Mexico and he won his very first navigation event at the 2014 BAJA RALLY. Both Bright and teammate Ian Blythe were part of Rally Pan Am’s aborted 2015 attempt. It goes without saying that these guys have all been heavily invested in this effort for at least 3 years and that Scott has probably checked the Dakar off his bucket list.
CR Gittere, HT HUSQVARNA, Seeded 146th; DNF after 9 stages
CR had a lot of fellow Americans in his cheering section for being the biggest underdog in the Dakar. The highly accomplished superbike racer committed himself heavily into having a successful run by training separately with Jimmy Lewis and Quinn Cody. Needless to say, CR’s Dakar ended for him in stage during stage 10.
There is a future for Americans riders in the Dakar rally and this 2016 looks to be a turning point for us. 3 years ago we had the future in our hands when Kurt Caselli won 2 stages in his maiden attempt in 2013. But after his tragic passing later that year, there was nobody prepared to represent the US in the Dakar. Alas, with Quinn Cody’s work promoting the Dakar as well as a pair at least 3 legitimate rallies in Mexico, North Americans are slowly catching the rally buzz again. It wont be overnight, but if either Ricky Brabec or Ian Blythe dedicate and commit themselves to the goal, either could be the first American to win the Dakar Rally.
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 has a shares his unique perspective and insights into the rally racing scene.